Teddy Brex emerges from a loveless, isolated childhood as a handsome young man. Francine Hill, emotionally and mentally scarred by the murder of her mother, grows into a beautiful young woman, who must endure the overprotectiveness of an increasingly obsessive stepmother.
Teddy Brex does ride to her rescue, but he is a man who has already committed two murders.
Everyone knows I love Rendell's books. Even my sister rang me up at work one day to ask if I had a particular Rendell (in this case it was 'The Veiled One') that she had seen and bought for me when she spotted it! All my family knew I'd be quiet for a few days when a new Rendell was started!
In 1998, Rendell bought out 'A Sight For Sore Eyes' which I am now highlighting on my third reading. Every time I read it I spot something new. Teddy Brex has to be one of Rendell's best creations. He is not evil, he simply has a skewed version of the world. Although the word is not mentioned, from his behaviour, I imagine that these days Teddy would be classed as being on the autistic spectrum. He doesn't have the greatest start with a family that have never shown a modicum of love. They are merely people he had the misfortune to live with. His behaviour towards Francine is obsessive and he wants her his way and no other – merely to have Francine as a work of art that he can sit back and admire.
Teddy has committed murder, but not because of the usual emotions of love, hate, anger, revenge or gain, but purely because they are in his way. If someone hinders his progress, then he simply removes them. This coldness in Teddy is the nearest Rendell gets to emulating Highsmith's own creation, Tom Ripley.
There is not just the obsession of Teddy over Francine. There is Francine's stepmother, Julia who obsesses over the girl who found her murdered mother years before, believing Francine is too fragile for the outside world and must be protected at all costs. However, as Francine grows older, she begins to try and break those bonds only to find herself in the arms of Teddy who is as obsessed of Francine as Julia. Although Francine is a victim to these two strong personalities, Rendell does not make her pathetic, although definitely naïve.
With slow and well-timed precision, Rendell peels away the layers of her story winding up with a sad moral to her story. I never feel that Teddy gets his come-uppance. In fact, I feel sad as Teddy is not evil, but misguided and ill-informed after being isolated, emotionally and physically all his life. 'A Sight For Sore Eyes' is always in my Rendell Top Ten and one I go back to time and again. This is a great starting point for any new reader to Rendell's work and one I urge you to re-visit if you have read it before. 'A Sight For Sore Eyes' is the sort of book you can read and then understand why Rendell was so lauded during her writing career. Sublime.
N.B. For the one and only time, Rendell was to cross a psychological novel with a Wexford case, 'The Vault' which takes place in Arcadia Place and is well worth reading after 'A Sight For Sore Eyes'.