The Water's Lovely by Ruth Rendell Hutchinson, HK$270 When Ismay Sealand was 15 her stepfather Guy, weakened by illness, drowned in his bathtub. Accidental death, the inquest concluded. But Ismay never believed that. Guy was murdered, and her darling younger sister Heather was the killer. Hadn't she and her mother, Beatrix, seen Heather on the stairs that afternoon when they returned from shopping, her shoes and dress wet through. Not that they told the police. No, they were together, shopping, they said in their statements. Beatrix, too, had suspicions. When she suggested they say Heather was with them, Ismay and Heather readily agreed, neither asking why an alibi was necessary. Almost 10 years on, Ismay has never confronted Heather. After all, she's sure her sister killed to protect her, the true object of paedophile Guy Rolland's affections. The Clapham house where Guy died has been remodelled and sometimes weeks pass without Ismay thinking about what happened. Beatrix, who retreated into schizophrenia, lives in the top flat with her sister Pamela, a lonely woman who dates men met via the internet; while Ismay and Heather live in the flat downstairs. Now plain Heather has a serious boyfriend. Edmund Litton, a nurse at the hospice where she's a cook, a bachelor dominated by his hypochondriac mother, asks her out - a ruse to thwart his mother's plan to pair him with Marion Melville, a strange woman who has an ulterior motive when she helps the elderly. Heather and Edmund are in love and plan to marry. For Ismay, it's a moment of reckoning; should she tell Edmund of Heather's past? Might Heather kill again to protect loved ones? 'Could she let this apparently nice, good, intelligent man take on Heather without knowing what she had done? But if he knew, would he take her on? I love my sister ... I can't bear to hurt her.' Ismay has her own boyfriend, Andrew. But the self-centred Andrew loathes Heather and Edmund, and asking his advice is impossible. So she confides in her tape recorder; the tape is to remain hidden, her way of relieving the burden. Will it fall into the wrong hands? Will Edmund find out? Will Marion harm Mrs Litton or any of the other elderly from whose wills she hopes to benefit? And will Heather kill again? These are just some of the questions posed by Ruth Rendell in The Water's Lovely. The books she publishes in her own name, other than her much-loved Inspector Wexford series, are more difficult to characterise than the Wexfords and the psychological thrillers she writers as Barbara Vine. Always there is, as here, a cast of seemingly ordinary characters with dark secrets and human frailties, there is building tension and an overlay of menace, the possibility that events will take a disastrous turn. Such suspense can be difficult to sustain, but, despite a disappointingly trite ending, The Water's Lovely is one of her best, gripping from the outset and with a cast of skilfully drawn characters. The book is a rich and complex tapestry. Most of all it's about the power of love, and the frightening lengths we will go to, to hold on to it and protect those we love.