I have never read any of Ruth Rendell's work before. My first experience is therefore this short story written by her and included in the Quick Reads collection. I found it a riveting read, and it showed why she is such a popular author.
Polly is a thief. She has been since she was a girl. She also has problems with lying to people, for no apparent reason. Rendell explains this is not a condition, it just happens as Polly tries to take the easy option. When she meets and falls in love with Alex, she doesn't lie, and everthing's refreshing. Then she meets the obnoxious Trevor Lant on a plane to New York, and things take a turn for the worse. One little lie soon turns into a whole series of lies as things get worse as she tries to make them better.
What Rendell does brilliantly here is tell the story to make you completely familiar with Polly. I got a mental image of her, and also of some of the other characters, despite it being a short story and there not being a great deal of time to gain a feel for the characters. Polly is portrayed as a relatively well meaning woman, who has reacted badly in the past, stealing things and breaking them when people have been horrible to her. Now, as an adult, that compulsion to steal and damage Lant's belongings after he demeans and angers her on the plane only leads to fear and humiliation as the tale progresses.
It's almost like Rendell is delivering a bit of karma to Polly for all the things she got away with stealing and breaking when she was a kid, and showing that revenge wasn't the best way to deal with what had annoyed her. In fact, the front cover of the book even has the tagline 'What you do in childhood may come back to haunt you.' Polly certainly seems to be experiencing this.
It's the paranoia that Rendell nails on the head. Making Polly react to the phone as if there's a call from the police, or that there's no way out of the situation she's in. We are taken on a mental struggle as Polly decides what to do, and all the time, Lant is lurking around the corner, and her boyfriend Alex is waiting patiently, blatantly aware that something is going on without being able to specify. She's digging a hole for herself, and all it shows is that lies breed more lies and stealing someone else's belongings is wrong and can only lead to more problems.
It's a message, for sure, and a lesson to show that two wrongs don't make a right, and other similar moral lessons we learn along the way. The tale flows very well on the page, and at just under 90 pages, it took me about an hour to read, thoroughly enjoying the whole book. There are a whole bunch of books in the Quick Reads collection. Some are by famous authors, others not. I highly recommend this one. It's currently available from amazon.co.uk for £2.99 from new, which is a good price for the book. Recommended.