The St. Zita Society by Ruth Rendell – book review

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by Amelia Gordon

If Tongue in Cheek were a genre, The Saint Zita Society would fit right in, but let us call it satire. The Saint Zita Society is more a social commentary than a mystery: we know who dies, setting a train of events in motion, and we know who the killer is, but there are still unexpected twists in this novel.

The story involves the residents of Hexam Place, an upscale London England neighbourhood, but essentially a Jane Austen village, where the interplay of thrown-together characters creates the story. The eponymous Saint Zita Society is a creation of Hexam Place domestic servants. Saint Zita is the patron saint of domestic help. The Society, which meets in the Dugong Pub, is used as a device to pull the “downstairs” characters together, for this is an “upstairs downstairs” story set in the London of today, where the lines between servant and employer may become blurred.

The upstairs society, with a few exceptions, is made up of snooty ingrates, and the downstairs group are far from perfect themselves, afflicted by petty thievery and jealousy; and, at intervals, long suffering. It is an interesting twist in the plot, if plot it can be called, that the foreign workers from ethnic minorities (African and Pakistani) represent a centre of moral goodness among the spoiled and corrupt inhabitants of the neighbourhood. The denouement is a reflection of modern society — the good go unrewarded; the corrupt go unpunished; however, one of the characters, dogged by mental problems, acts as a sort of “deus ex machina” in the end.

This is not a typical Ruth Rendell mystery, but a rather delightful social satire in which death occurs in unexpected circumstances, enough to keep your interest and sometimes make you chuckle.

The Saint Zita Society is published by Doubleday Canada, a division of Random House