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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
All this week one of our TV stations has been running a Ruth Rendell
Mystery Movie. I caught "A Case of Coincidence" on Wednesday, which I
found pretty boring and the sort of thing that happens when you pad out
a short story into 120 minutes. Imagine how I felt when I tuned in the
next day and found "The Secret House of Death", one of my favourite non
Wexford novels, based on an early (1968) Rendell work. Definitely not
as meticulously plotted as the novel, it really helped having a star of
Amanda Redman's quality (she of "New Tricks" and "At Home With the
Braithwaites" fame). She plays Susan Townsend, newly divorced, living
in a cul de sac and the only person not curious about the comings and
goings of "flaky" neighbour Louise. When she pops around to Susan's
place agitated and needing a "real" drink, it is not hard for Susan,
like the other neighbours, to believe the gossip that she was having an
affair with Bernard, a kitchen refitter, when they are both found dead
(by Susan) in an apparent murder suicide. It seems and open and shut
case and when Bernard's wife, Magdalena, gives evidence at the inquest
she paints a damning picture of Louise as a husband stealer.
Susan is also having trouble with her ex husband so she finds it easy to give support and comfort to distraught Bob who comes across as a model husband bravely putting up with Louise's affair. Meanwhile Det. Sgt. Mary Janes refuses to believe it is so transparent and is convinced that Bernard's eerie brother has something to do with it.
It then falls apart (from the book). Susan invites Bob around to dinner where she finds him less than enthusiastic (after sharing some passionate moments) and she starts to question whether she has been too eager to start a new romance. When she realises that the photo she has admired is not Bordeaux (as Bob always claimed) but Devon scenery, she instantly turns into an investigative journalist and turns up first at the eerie brother's butcher shop where he confirms that they all came from Devon, then going to Devon where she questions an old friend of Magdalena's who tells her the story of the wheel chair bound father.
And like a lot of these sensationist crime movies, explanations don't get in the way of an explosive ending - read the book and you will get both!! The last ten minutes of the movie has Susan, after stealthily leaving Bob's house (he has given her a key), realising she has left the side gate ajar at the same moment that Bob feels "the little grey rabbit" has got too inquisitive and will have to meet the same fate as Louise. Unfortunately you don't get the involved and ingenious explanation found in Ruth Rendell's book, about how Bob met Mag in Devon and how, far from having an affair, Louise actually only knew Bernard as just a handy man when Bob encouraged Louise to refit their kitchen - and after complaining to the neighbours that her extravagance was sending him broke!! They were two innocent dupes - but only in the book!!
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