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Piranha To Scurfy And Other Stories [Paperback]

Ruth Rendell
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 Aug 2001
The long title story is about a man whose life, in a sense, is a book. There are shelves in every room, packed with titles which Ambrose Ribbon has checked pedantically for mistakes of grammar and fact. Life for Ribbon, without his mother now, is lonely and obsessive, filled with psychoses and neuroses, with the ever-present possibility of a descent into violent madness. He still keeps his mother's dressing table exactly as she had left it, the wardrobe door always open so that her clothes can be seen inside, and her pink silk nightdress on the bed. There is one book too that he associates particularly with her - volume VIII of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Piranha to Scurfy. It marked a very significant moment in their relationship. In the other stories, Ruth Rendell deals with a variety of themes, some macabre, some vengeful, some mysterious, all precisely observed. The second novella, High Mysterious Union, explores a strange, erotic universe in a dream-like corner of rural England, and illustrates very atmospherically what range Ruth Rendell has as a writer, expanding beyond her famous sphere of crime writing.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow; New Ed edition (30 Aug 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099414996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099414995
  • Product Dimensions: 17.6 x 10.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,091,382 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ruth Rendell has won many awards, including the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for 1976's best crime novel with A Demon in My View; a second Edgar in 1984 from the Mystery Writers of America for the best short story, 'The New Girl Friend'; and a Gold Dagger award for Live Flesh in 1986. She was also the winner of the 1990 Sunday Times Literary award, as well as the Crime Writers' Association Cartier Diamond Dagger. In 1996 she was awarded the CBE and in 1997 became a Life Peer.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Ruth Rendell continues to be a passionate supporter of the short story. Her latest collection, "Piranha to Scurfy" and Other Stories, contains quite her most varied forays into the form yet, with a beguilingly disparate selection of tales, united by the usual cold-eyed Rendell narrative voice. The title story (the longest in the book, and a reference to an encyclopaedia entry) is something of a departure for Rendell: although her work has always been rich in elements of the macabre, this is her first full-scale horror tale, and a curious concoction it is. Taking equal parts of Stephen King (of whom a suave surrogate appears in the piece), the great English ghost story writer MR James and Rendell's own individual ground of twisted psychology, the tale is ostensibly an atmospheric study in burgeoning mental terror. A lonely and socially maladroit man finds himself driven to the point of madness when the demon of a bestselling horror tale appears to infiltrate itself into his daily life. But the real agenda of the tale seems to be a kind of proxy revenge by Rendell on obsessively nit-picking readers: the doomed protagonist, Ribbon, spends his time sending crushing letters to writers pointing out their errors of grammar and lapses in style. It's hard not to feel Rendell's relish at his horrific fate, and perhaps critical readers will be given pause. The characterisation has all the dark fascination of Rendell's best work, and if that final shiver of horror isn't quite delivered, Rendell enthusiasts will be more than diverted. The other tales are equally compelling, with The Professional and The Astronomical Scarf being particularly well turned. There is also a pleasingly steady progression of mood throughout the tales: one never senses that these pieces have been casually thrown together by an editor. And Rendell demonstrates time again that she knows how to keep the reader transfixed. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Rendell is a great storyteller who knows how to make sure that the reader has to turn the pages out of a desperate need to find out what is going to happen next" (John Mortimer Sunday Times)

"Plenty of style and many a wry reflection on the human condition ... Rendell's mission in these well-crafted short stories is ... to exhibit a cool skill in the telling of moral fables. This is serious entertainment" (Frances Fyfield Express)

"In her writing, horror does not shake its gory locks directly at us, but hovers on the periphery of our inner vision, hidden among the ordinary, the everyday" (Jane Shilling Sunday Telegraph)

"Rendell's mastery of the difficult short story genre is unsurpassed ... Her mesmerising capacity to shock, chill and disturb is unmatched" (The Times)

"Rendell is unrivalled at depicting psychologically warped people and at creating unease through the simplest things. This is another triumph" (Observer)

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chilling twists! 10 Sep 2006
By kehs TOP 1000 REVIEWER
This comprises of short stories and two novellas. The title story is about a man who spends his life reading and correcting the novels that he reads. He then writes to the authors to complain about all the errors he finds in their books. He makes the mistake of taking on a horror writer and his life becomes filled with terror as he convinces himself that the book is haunting him. I wondered if the author was based on Stephen King. A brilliant start to this book which is followed by several short but snappy stories, that all have chilling twists to their endings. This set of stories reminded me of Roald Dahl's works, and I fully recommend this book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars oh dear, stick to the novels ms rendell! 17 Jan 2004
By S. Hapgood VINE VOICE
As a die-hard fan of Ruth Rendell's novels it grieves me somewhat that I just cannot take to her short fiction, and it's not for want of trying! I came to this one after "The Copper Peacock", which also left me feeling flat and so what-ish, and I was hoping that this would be better. But no. Her short pieces simply do not have the eyebrow-lifting masterly shocks and twists that come with her long fiction, nor your involvement with the plot. The short stories are predictable to the point of being turgid, and her characters simply aren't interesting enough to carry us along. The title story, the opening novella to the piece, is the kind of thing that I feel Stephen King could do standing on his head (if he was so inclined anyway!), and to much better effect. Ambrose Ribbon is a fussy middle-aged bachelor, who spends his lonely existence buying books and correcting them for mistakes, and then sending letters lambasting the authors for their shoddiness (has this happened to Rendell then? was the question I kept asking myself when I read it). When Ambrose decides to take on a horror fantasy writer he gets more than he bargained for. He becomes convinced that the book is haunting him, (mind-bogglingly dull is that), and all the time it is his guilt that he murdered his overbearing mother coming out. Very ho-hum. It is completely devoid of surprises, suspense, or any kind of chilling effect whatsoever. Where your flesh should be creeping you will be pinching yourself to stay awake instead! "Computer Seance" tries immensely hard to be a jokey piece with a cruel Saki-style punchline, but it's let down entirely by being predictable (again!) and mercilessly unfunny. I have to confess I gave up after that. I'll be sticking to her novels in future.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Decent collection from the mistress of suspense 30 Nov 2000
By finna
Perhaps it's not surprising that I am the first to dare to review this book, after reading the chilling title story 'Piranha to Scurfy'. If you've read it you'll know exactly what I mean by that, though I really do have to stick my neck out and correct Amazon here by pointing out that this story is in fact not the longest in the book, this distinction belongs to 'High Mysterious Union', in my opinion the most sinister and accomplished story. Overall, a fine showcase for Ms Rendell, with stories ranging from the fairly mundane and average to the outstanding. As always with Ms Rendell, things are very rarely what they seem, and the twist of the truly unexpected is what keeps her writing fresh. Recommended.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic collection. 16 Dec 2000
By A Customer
I love Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, and this superb book of short stories didn't disappoint. I thought the best was the title story, although 'The Wink' was also very satisfying. Rendell builds up such tension, yet never by using cheap or melodramatic effects. Even in stories of only a few pages, her characters come to life and they and their situations are totally believable. I hope one day Rendell's fantastic literature will be studied in schools! Excellent!
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Never having read Rendell, who is widely thought of as being amongst the best contemporary crime writers, I figured this new collection might be the place to start. I was rather disappointed to find that the six short stories and two much longer novellas are character studies that are more intent on evoking mood than delivering an interesting plot or story. The short stories are particularly weak, with the possible exception of "The Professional," This latter story tells of a shoeshine boy who witnesses a murder and stays quiet, rather than rock the boat and risk his job. It's a little more interesting than the others if only for the class issues it touches upon. "The Wink" and "Walter's Leg" both revisit ancient crimes and bestow predictable, if long overdue, justice. "Catamount" is a simple story of a woman and mountain lion, entirely unremarkable and reading like a writing exercise. "The Beach Butler" is a perfectly awful story about a single woman without much money on vacation, and the dusky local she falls for. "The Astronomical Scarf" follows a scarf through the hands of various owners over the years (much like E. Annie Proulx's novel Accordion Crimes), and paints quick sketches of each. Rendell's icily detached narrative voice runs throughout the stories, making them even less interesting.
The title story is a long and predictable authorial revenge-fantasy that veers off into supernatural horror. Mostly consisting of an extended character study, it follows a cliché of a maternally dominated middle-aged pedant whose madness consumes him. Living alone since his mother's death (he killed her, duh!), he spends his days reading books and writing letters to their authors and publishers pointing out mistakes.
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