April 07, 1986 12:00 PM

by Ruth Rendell

In the title story, one of 11 in this volume of satisfyingly straightforward short pieces of fiction by the British mystery writer, a young woman who is married but still has a terrible fear of men finds a new girlfriend in a most unexpected way. They are happy doing the things young women do—walking the heath together, shopping, flirting with men in a bar. But then one of them comes upon a secret that leads to murder. In “A Dark Blue Perfume,” an old man decides to seek revenge against his former wife after 40 years, only to make a terrible mistake. One of the best stories in this collection is “The Orchard Walls.” It has an irresistible opening sentence: “I have never told anyone about this before.” What unfolds is the tale of a romantic 14-year-old girl who believes she has seen a murder and has to pay a terrible, lifelong price. “The Green Road to Quephanda” is about a writer described by a neighbor as “the poor man’s Tolkien.” His books are so poorly received that finally he kills himself, and only then does a neighbor realize the power of the man’s fantastic imagination. In Rendell’s stories, plot comes first. This makes them seem unlike most short fiction being published today. But the tales have the power to bring a shiver, and the sturdy, old-fashioned polish with which they are presented makes them welcome. (Pantheon, $13.95)

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