Asta's Book by Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine is published in 1993 and tells the tale of a woman in search of identity, murder that happened eight decades ago and the quest for a lost child.
Asta moves to London from Denmark in 1905 with her family. Asta's husband Rasmus is away in Denmark to finish of some pending business. Asta lives with her two sons and servant Hansine and is pregnant. She wants a girl this time. Asta takes to writing her dairy regularly. She gives birth to a girl, Swanny. After Asta's death, nearly seventy years later, her diaries are published with great success.
Swanny, Asta's favourite daughter receives an anonymous letter, about her parentage. Who is Swanny? Is she adopted? Who are her real parents?
Asta makes a mention about Mrs. Roper in her dairy, who was brutally murdered in 1905. What did Asta know about the murder if she did know anything about it? Roper's 14 month old daughter Edith Roper had been missing from the day of murder. Was she murdered too? Was she kidnapped? What happened to her?
Asta's granddaughter Ann along with her friends are on a quest to find out who Swanny is and who killed Mrs. Roper.
I was almost disappointed at the reveal. It was something I worked it out. I love reading Vine/ Rendell because of her characters, plot, her observations about society, and most of all she never fails to surprise me. So if I have worked out the mystery it means Vine has failed to surprise me. Wait! I wasn't disappointed. She probably knows how my mind works and comes with a conclusion and then surprises me again.
Part of the story is Asta's Diary, part of it is narrated by Asta's granddaughter Ann and part of it consists of documents of the Roper trial.
The second chapter was confusing, I wonder whose funeral it is. Who is narrating the story and who are all these people. But that is also part of the mystery story telling Rendell/Vine adapts and slowly I got absorbed in the story.
We are familiar with stories of teens looking for their identity, in quest of who their real parents are. We have a twist here, Swanny is 58 years old when she receives the anonymous letter. How do you think a 58 year old would behave under such circumstance? Isn't it enough to be the favourite child of your mother and to have a loving devoted husband? Swanny is obsessed and keeps pestering 83 year old Asta for information. Asta is a real character, her anecdotes and the way she teases everybody is interesting. Roper case is interesting. Will Ann find out whodunit after nearly eighty years? Why didn't the police look at the obvious?Only it is not so obvious.
I have read The Grasshopper,The Birthday Present, No Night is too long, Fatal Inversion, The House of Stairs and Minotaur by Barabara Vine. To me this is one of Barbara Vine's best.