SHOTGUNS, surrealism and backwards narrative are all something we have got used to on TV recently with Rellik and, strangely with part of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, the new adaptation of which with Kenneth Brannagh and Johnny Depp comes out in cinemas today, writes Paul Thomas. 

However, Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone, set in 1978 in Lowfield Hall, the Coverdale family seat, which is now on at Windsor's Theatre Royal, is a superb rendering of this tedchnique.

No know whodunnit from the start, it's the getting there that matters, much like Carlito's Way with Al Pacino, he's shot at the beginning...but why?

Eunice, the recently-hired housekeeper can't read or write and as Rendell says at the top of her book she murders the Coverdale family in cold blood because she can't read – on Valentine’s Day.

Rendell’s brilliant plot unravels excruciating cover-ups and torment which leads to shocking shotgun outcomes.

It's a star cast which, in ensemble, delivers a high gloss finish to this outstanding thriller.

Bravo Bill Kenwright for turning his Agatha Christie Company into the Classic Thriller Company to explore these excellent noir genre great murder mysteries.

Sophie Ward is the secretive housekeeper Eunice, with dowdy unbecoming clothing and weak faltering voice, her underlying malevolence and ache in the side of the theatre-goer provenence to a previous hideous crime.

Ward's nasty, believe me...a huge departure from her admiring candor as a beauty in our midst.

Soldier Soldier’s Ben Nealon’s performance as DS Challoner, was excellent, just right and The Bill star Chris Ellison as seen-it-all Detective Superintendent Vetch, summoned from London to assist DS Challoner on what is a very complex murder investigation, is as you would expect...a damn good copper.

All that, however, does not prepare the viewer for the repeated flashbacks of cold grisly slayings.

Robert Duncan, is superb as the benevolent Lord of the Manor, Lord Coverdale who dotes on his wife Jacqueline, Rosie Thomson, a lady who lunches, obviously...don't they all?

She is lovely to Eunice, but that matter nowt, Eunice is an old hand in the murder business.

Bergerac star Deborah Grant, lit up the stage at the end of the first half as Joan Smith, the former prostitute now postmistress, who reads the village mail and strikes up a friendship with Eunice.

What a lovely performance from Grant, who, it must be said, was one of my favourite go-to characters of 80s TV as John Nettles' ex-wife.

Veteran actress Shirley Anne Field is Eva Baalham, the Coverdale’s cleaner, but I would have liked to have seen more of this great veteran actor who starred alongside Olivier in The Entertainer and was part of revolutionary British film in Saturday Night Sunday Morning.

The play involves a series of flashbacks outlining resentment and hate culminating in the carnage which must, in Eunice's eyes, happen.

This is Rendell at her thrilling best and director Roy Marsden - TV's Adam Dalgliesh - gets a tight, harrowing and gripping story out for the audience.

It's Halloween time. Wannabe scared? This is a frightener with all the class of British murder mysteries.

Ditch the tellybox or put on record and get on down to the 'Royal' for a great night of murder...this mystery is dead on.

A Judgement in Stone is on at the Theatre Royal Windsor until Saturday, November 4. Box Office: 01753 853888 ort