A Judgement In Stone is a 1977 novel by British writer Ruth Rendell, widely considered to be one of her greatest works. The novel is famous in the world of crime fiction for its opening line: "Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write". The novel has been acclaimed as a keen social examination of the differences between British classes in the 1970s, as well being remarkable in its levels of suspense, despite the reader knowing from the first line what is going to happen.
Eunice is taken on as a housekeeper by a family of four. She has kept her illiteracy a secret and is obsessed by continuing to keep it so. Unknown to her new employers, she has already murdered the father for whom she had been caring, and has falsified her references. Her inability to adapt to her place in society is masked by the cunning with which she conceals the truth about herself. Misinterpreting every act of kindness she is offered by her employers, she eventually turns on them, stealing the guns that are normally kept locked away. With the aid of a fellow social misfit, she murders the entire family. Their crime is discovered as a result of the fact that their actions have been recorded on a time-activated tape recorder.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
The novel was filmed twice: The Housekeeper
starred Rita Tushingham
as the illiterate maid, while Sandrine Bonnaire
played the role in La Cérémonie
, directed by Claude Chabrol
. The author has said that Chabrol's version is one of the few film adaptations of her work that she is happy with.
- 1997, UK, Hutchinson (ISBN 0-09-129070-8), Pub date 2 May 1977, hardback (First edition)