A Judgement in Stone
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3.91 / 5

"A Judgement in Stone" Summary

By Ruth Rendell

mystery | 188 pages | Published in NaN

What on earth could have provoked a modern day St. Valentine's Day massacre?On Valentine's Day, four members of the Coverdale family--George, Jacqueline, Melinda and Giles--were murdered in the space of 15 minutes. Their housekeeper, Eunice Parchman, shot them, one by one, in the blue light of a televised performance of Don Giovanni. When Detective Chief Superintendent William Vetch arrests Miss Parchman two weeks later, he discovers a second tragedy: the key to the Valentine's Day massacre hidden within a private humiliation Eunice Parchman has guarded all her life.  A brilliant rendering of character, motive, and the heady discovery of truth, A Judgement in Stone is among Ruth Rendell's finest psychological thrillers.


Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A housekeeper's dark secret leads to a shocking crime in a wealthy family's home.


"A Judgement in Stone" is a gripping psychological thriller written by Ruth Rendell, a renowned crime writer. The novel, first published in 1977, has been widely acclaimed for its intricate plot, well-developed characters, and surprising twists. Rendell's masterful storytelling and keen insight into the human psyche make this book a compelling read for fans of the genre.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

The novel opens with the gruesome murder of the wealthy Coverdale family in their isolated country mansion. The perpetrator is Eunice Parchman, a housekeeper with a dark secret. As the story unfolds, the events leading up to the tragedy are revealed through multiple perspectives, shedding light on the complex web of relationships and underlying tensions within the household. The investigation into the murders uncovers the chilling truth about Eunice's past and the shocking motivations behind her heinous actions.


The story is primarily set in the Coverdale family's mansion, a grand and imposing residence located in the English countryside. The isolated and claustrophobic atmosphere of the mansion serves as a backdrop for the unfolding tragedy, adding to the sense of unease and tension that permeates the narrative.

Main Characters

The novel features a diverse cast of characters, each with their own motivations and secrets.

Eunice ParchmanThe housekeeper with a troubled past and a deep-seated resentment towards the Coverdale family.
George RodeThe village milkman and an enigmatic figure with a connection to Eunice's past.
Joan SmithA social worker who becomes entangled in the lives of the Coverdale family.
JacquelineThe teenage daughter of the Coverdales, who senses the impending doom within the household.
MelindaThe intellectually disabled daughter of the Coverdales, who unwittingly becomes a pawn in the tragedy.

Summary of Story Points Over Chapters

Chapter 1-3

The novel begins with the introduction of Eunice Parchman, the new housekeeper hired by the Coverdale family. Eunice is immediately portrayed as an enigmatic and mysterious figure, hiding a troubled past and harboring deep-seated resentment towards her employers. The reader is given glimpses of Eunice's inner thoughts and the simmering anger that drives her actions.

Chapter 4-6

As the story progresses, the dynamics within the household are explored, revealing the strained relationships between the Coverdale family members and the growing unease caused by Eunice's presence. The arrival of George Rode, the village milkman, adds another layer of intrigue to the narrative, hinting at a connection between him and Eunice.

Chapter 7-9

Tensions escalate within the mansion as Eunice's carefully guarded facade begins to crack, and her true intentions become increasingly ominous. The interactions between the characters become fraught with suspicion and unease, creating a palpable sense of impending doom.

Chapter 10-12

The narrative delves deeper into Eunice's past, unraveling the traumatic events that have shaped her psyche and fueled her resentment towards the Coverdale family. Simultaneously, the reader is given insight into the lives and inner turmoil of the other characters, adding layers of complexity to the unfolding tragedy.

Chapter 13-15

The shocking climax unfolds as the events culminate in a violent and tragic confrontation, leading to the devastating outcome that has been foreshadowed throughout the novel. The aftermath of the murders brings the truth to light, exposing the deep-seated tensions and hidden motivations that have driven the characters to their fates.

Main Events

  • The hiring of Eunice Parchman as the housekeeper for the Coverdale family.
  • The growing unease and suspicion surrounding Eunice's presence in the household.
  • The revelation of Eunice's traumatic past and her deep-seated resentment towards the family.
  • The arrival of George Rode and the hints of a connection between him and Eunice.
  • The climactic and tragic events that lead to the shocking conclusion of the novel.

Themes and Insights


  1. Class Divide: The novel explores the tensions and disparities between the working-class characters like Eunice and the affluent Coverdale family, highlighting the societal divisions and prejudices that fuel resentment and conflict.
  2. Revenge and Resentment: The theme of simmering resentment and the desire for retribution permeates the narrative, driving the actions of the characters and ultimately leading to tragedy.
  3. Isolation and Alienation: The isolated setting of the mansion mirrors the emotional and psychological isolation experienced by the characters, emphasizing the theme of alienation and the inability to bridge the divide between individuals.


Rendell's exploration of the complexities of human nature and the destructive power of repressed emotions offers valuable insights into the darker aspects of the human psyche. The novel serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the consequences of unchecked resentment and the devastating impact of unresolved trauma.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Judgement in Stone" offers a riveting and thought-provoking reading experience, immersing the audience in a meticulously crafted narrative that skillfully builds tension and suspense. The novel's exploration of human nature, class dynamics, and the consequences of repressed emotions provides ample material for reflection and discussion. Readers will find themselves drawn into the intricate web of secrets and motivations, culminating in a shocking and unforgettable conclusion.


Ruth Rendell's "A Judgement in Stone" stands as a testament to the author's mastery of the psychological thriller genre. With its compelling characters, atmospheric setting, and thought-provoking themes, the novel delivers a gripping and immersive reading experience that lingers in the minds of readers long after the final page. As a classic in the crime fiction genre, "A Judgement in Stone" continues to captivate audiences with its insightful exploration of human nature and the devastating consequences of unchecked resentment.

A Judgement in Stone FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'A Judgement in Stone'?

    The genre of 'A Judgement in Stone' is a psychological thriller.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Judgement in Stone'?

    The author of 'A Judgement in Stone' is Ruth Rendell.

  3. What is the main plot of 'A Judgement in Stone'?

    The main plot revolves around a housekeeper who commits a crime which leads to a series of tragic events.

  4. Is 'A Judgement in Stone' a part of a series?

    No, 'A Judgement in Stone' is a standalone novel and not part of a series.

  5. What is the setting of 'A Judgement in Stone'?

    The story is set in a rural English estate, adding to the atmosphere of the psychological thriller.