Of course Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family. She had no choice. She enjoyed it, truth be told. There’s a tape recording of her killing the Coverdales, not a bit of remorse recorded.
Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone is a terrific crime novel, a novel of suspense and terror and neglect, of madness (secular and religious) and of class, the stuffy upper middle class of Britain, and its low class of shiftless laborers, the class of one Eunice Parchman, perhaps the greatest illiterate character in all of literature.
Eunice can’t read or write, but she’s crafty enough to blackmail other timid sorts in her world to provide her what she needs, and what she needs at the start of A Judgement in Stone is a letter of reference. A family in the country needs a maid, and Eunice wants the job. The family is called Coverdale.
The Coverdales are George and Jackie, and their children Giles (George’s son) and Melinda (Jackie’s daughter); there are other Coverdales from previous marriages, but the four at the heart of the book are each described robust and full; George is an elegant businessman, Jackie his foxy youngish wife, Giles the sullen teen experimenting with angst and religion, and pretty Melinda as the co-ed, falling in love for the first time.
Joan Smith is the other central character to the novel, and she is as perfectly created as Eunice. Joan is tied up with a religious sect, preaching on doorsteps and judging harshly the heathens in town. She’s a misfit, and her and Eunice form a unique bond (not a friendship) based on little more than accident and mental deficiency.
Rendell throughout the book explains how close the Coverdales came to avoiding their deaths; it’s a cheap trick but like everything else in A Judgement in Stone it works damn well.