Thirteen Steps Down Paperback – 30 Jun 2005
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Like several of Ruth Rendell's other novels of suspense, Thirteen Steps Down is a book about a couple of murders waiting to happen. Mix Cellini is a half-educated mechanic specializing in exercise machines, who indulges himself in alcohol, self-medication, celebrity-stalking and an obsession with Christie, the Rillington Place murderer. What dooms Cellini, and his victims, is not so much any active principle of evil, as selfishness and a tendency to drift into things that does the job almost as efficiently.
The house where he rents an apartment is a wonderful example of the Bad Place; his eighty-something landlady Gwendolyn is another person who drifts, in her case into nostalgia and slow decay. Mix is a deeply modern monster, but Gwendolyn is one of the proofs that this is not just a bitch at modernity; Mix's potential victim, supermodel Nerissa, is charming, smart and blessed. There are a few too many coincidences here for Thirteen Steps Down to quite make it on to the list of great Rendell--her best books are more tightly constructed--but it is certainly a book which her admirers will want.--Roz Kaveney --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
"Ruth Rendell is back to her creepy best." (Daily Mail)
"Rendell's eerie capacity to comprehend disturbed criminal minds continues to astonish." (The Times)
"It's impossible to read the terrors abroad in her shabby streetscapes without total emotional involvement." (Sunday Times)
"One of her darkest and best." (Literary Review)
"If Ruth Rendell were not slotted into the category of writer of mystery novels, she would have won the Booker long ago" (Books of the Year, Evening Standard)
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Basically a story of a sad individual who is obsessed with John Reginald Christie and the murders he committed. He also becomes obsessed with a beautiful model. He is forced to recreate some of the aspects of Christie's career when he, too, commits murder. Any more detail would act as a spoiler to anyone wanting to read the book. Suffice to say, I found it an ok read but was left disappointed.
Mix Cellini is a loner who has two unhealty obsessions, one with Christie, and another for a top fashion-model, Nerissa Nash. He takes a top-floor flat in a big decaying London house, owned by Miss Gwendolin Chawcer, a reclusive, waspish old lady, who during the course of her long life, has rarely ventured into the outside world, who still carries a torch for a man she barely knew decades before, and who is unceasingly rude to her two kind-hearted, longsuffering chums, Olive and Queenie. This is vintage Rendell territory. Lonely people living in their own fantasy worlds, and having the whole thing spiral painfully out of control. Where this book is truly great are the scenes in Miss Chawcer's house, they are like something out of a black-and-white Hitchcock film. Two eccentric people, of wildly different ages, who hate each other, don't understand each other, and want nothing to do with each other, are forced, through financial constraints, to live under the same roof. It is also great in showing the steady disintegration of Mix's mind, of how the fantasies end up taking over his life, until in the end he simply cannot see reality at all. It shows the delicate line between a sad loner with an offbeat selection of reading matter, and a truly dangerous individual. The same is said for Miss Chawcer, who after a lifetime of chronic self-imposed isolation, has become completely divorced from the real world.
There are some truly memorable scenes in this book, for instance the moonlight falling across the bedroom when Mix goes in to attempt his second "murder", and Mix sitting on the steps leading up to his flat, and eavesdropping on Queenie and Olive in the hallway below. So why didn't I find it completely satisfying? Because, for me anyway, this still isn't quite vintage Rendell, and there is a trait I've noticed in her recent books of relying too much on cartoon stereotypes (I don't regard myself as particularly politically-correct, but the non-English characters in this are like something out of an old Benny Hill sketch, and I can see why some people find this habit of hers offensive), or, bland, nicey-wicey characters (Nerissa's parents) who seem to just take up valuable page-space. Plus the bits involving Madame Shoshana, the fake fortune-teller, and her spell on Mix jarred badly. I know perhaps this was just simply meant to be a red-herring, but instead it felt like a complete waste of time, a hamfisted attempt at broad humour. This felt out of a place with the brooding atmosphere in the rest of the book. I was expecting the sub-plot with Shoshana to actually GO somewhere, and it didn't. The ending also felt rushed, as though the author had run out of time. Mix's story just seems to sort of fizzle out.
Having said all that though, this book is still a first-rate read, and parts of it were highly memorable. Well-worth a couple of reads I would say.
The main characters in the book are certainly not likeable. From the fantasist lodger Mix Cellini his day job exercise equipement technician, who drools over top model Nerissa Nash in his fantasies, thinking he will win her heart.Then there is his equally unlikeable Landlady Gwendolen Chawcer.Then Madam Shoshanna, blowsy mystic and spa owner, Yikes these are creepy people who inhabit morbid inner worlds. In fact the only likeable characters are the VIctim and the lesser supporting characters in the book.
The chapters build slowly and masterfully to a wonder crescendo and finish. I strongly recomend this as good holiday reading. Get it.
Gwendolen Chawcer has spent a lifetime in St Blaise House. She used to spend her days looking after her parents, then just her father, and now just only herself. It is a necessary evil that she must take in a lodger, the mostly disagreeable Mix Cellini. Their alliance is an uneasy but necessary arrangement. Miss Chawcer pines for a love lost more than fifty years ago, and upon hearing of the death of the man's wife, she is certain that he will want her in his life. Tiresome to fall ill and have one's friends take over, and they don't trust that strange man upstairs either. He doesn't know that she has a key to his flat, and has smelt a very strange smell coming from upstairs.
If you are into the psychological thrillers that author Ruth Rendell writes under the name of Barbara Vine, "Thirteen Steps Down" is right up your alley. With the action largely being relayed through the movements of your typical Rendell tortured loner, you are treated to witnessing the slow breakdown of an unstable mind. Treated, in the sense that the fraying of a character who is barely keeping it together is relayed so gradually and masterfully that it all makes perfect sense when the inevitable catastrophic conclusion arrives. No one does this particular crime sub-genre as well as Ruth Rendell.
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Some of the characters are so cardboardy the writing comes across as totally amateur .... Nerissa and Darel a case in point .Read more
I have read a couple of her other books and not been overly impressed, but I was drawn to this one after...Read more
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