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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 23 September 2002
Ruth Rendell is unquestionably the best novelist in this, or any generation. Her stories of psychological suspense and downright sheer chillingness will, and deserve to, go down in history as some of the most artful novels ever written. And this, is one of her very very best.
The atmosphere is chilly and hostile, the plot and characters are disturbing and strange. She mixes the normal everyday tpicalities of life with the quirks in the mind of the mentally...different, brilliantly, so that the consequences are amazingly cathartic.
Disturbing, compelling, utterly absorbing, with a shock ending that is a masterpiece of irony, this is an amazing novel.
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on 21 February 2012
Ruth Rendell's novel has a remarkable atmosphere: downbeat, shabby, and claustrophobic.

The setting is 1970s bedsit-land, and Rendell really captured the time - having to plan when you are going to use a shared telephone, rent payments in brown envelopes, patchouli oil, two-week dustmen's strikes.

Arthur Johnson, the Kenbourne Killer, has been controlling his strangling urges for twenty years with the help of a shop-window dummy hidden in the cellar of his shared house. She is dressed in his Aunt's clothes, obviously, and he pops down there whenever the house is empty to `kill' her.

`Her white face, beautiful, unmarked by any flaw of skin or feature, stared blankly back at him. He fancied that she had cringed, her slim body pressing further into the wall behind her. He didn't speak. He had never known how to talk to women. There was only one thing he had ever been able to do to women and, advancing now, smiling, he did it.'

Arthur is a pernickety man who resents disorder, puts on a front of blameless propriety, has no social skills, and lacks any sense of perspective, - he writes a lengthy and remorseful note of apology when he opens a letter in error, but excuses himself the occasional killing. Rendell's ability to make Arthur sympathetic is remarkable and a little disturbing.

The arrival of the similarly named Anthony Johnson, a PhD student studying psychopathy, marks the beginning of a chaotic new period in Arthur's life, and ultimately to more deaths. Anthony's love affair with an annoyingly poetic woman called Helen reads like a subplot until it is woven back into the narrative later in the book. The end, when it comes, is sudden, and not at all what I expected in the penultimate chapter.
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on 26 May 2009
When I bought this book I expected something special and I ceratinly got it. Wow this book is in my top three ever reads. The superb style, the intricate weaving of the plot, the leading of the reader down roads and giving the merest glimpse of what is to come and then closing the door but opening it later to link in with the workings of a psychotic mind. The pinpoint accurate portrayal of someone stuck in the 1950's of his upbringing by Auntie Gracie. The very name conjures up the type of parent figure he had. And then the hammer blow of the ending with a further twist right at the end. To merely say I couldn't put it down does not do it justice. It is brilliant, buy it, read it, enjoy it. You will also remember it from time to time with a little unease. That is how good it is.
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on 4 February 2009
I found this a gripping story with a surprising and satisfying end. Main character very creepy and with no extraneous detail, plot pushed along in a plausible way. Ruth Rendell deserved the Golden Dagger Award for this story.
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on 28 October 2013
The first Ruth Rendell I ever read and it had me hooked on her work for life - I've bought every book she's written ever since, some of them as good as this one and others not.

This is a wonderful story of a reclusive, pedantic but psychopathic man out of his depth and time in 70's London. Others have written synopses of the story so I shan't but it reminds me of my bedsit days in Shepherds Bush in the 70'! Corner shops and pubs, freezing little studio flats, nobody really knowing their neighbour, noisy door slammers, a multi ethnic community in a rather rundown area - it's all there.
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on 2 January 2013
Absolutely fantastic! One of my favourites, a great story about a chilling psychopath, however it also had lots of laugh out loud moments from the Chinese lady who was a tenant in the same building as the main character! She had nothing whatsoever to do with the plot, although she was really funny. "He's not our fliend" and "Hallo, it's fleezing" were great quotes. Bearing in mind that this book was written in the 1970's, some of these quotes may not be appropriate today.
I can highly recommend this book, I've read it at least 10 times.
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on 28 February 2005
In this thriller, Mrs Rendell portrays a 50 year old psychopath called Arthur Johnson. He fits exactly the definition of a psychopathic person. He is asocial, self centred, impulsive and suffers from an acute anxiety nurosis. He has a strong need to preserve an immaculate ego, he is paranoiac, fears retribution and has an urgent need to be thought well by all people. And men like him cannot be reassured because their belief in their own worthlessness is so intense. Self-confidence cannot be implanted in Arthur anymore at the age of 50. That's why he fears other people - they represent a menace to his own integrity - and so he lives in private isolation.
Characteristically for a psychotic mind, Arthur is unable to form emotional relationships and he has no social ways of coping with his frustrations. This is certainly why Arthur keeps a plastic shop window model in his cellar. This model is dressed in his Auntie Gracie's clothes - for him she is the image of a mother, wife, counsellor, housekeeper and sole friend - which Arthur delights in "strangulating" regularly at night.
A very good thriller which shows that Mrs Rendell understands how a psychopathic mind works and how it can go awry.
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on 21 February 2016
a very clever, well written story. not your usual crime-famous detective-solution revealed. I don't want to spoil the story however you know the criminal before then end but this does not take away from the suspense or the ending. The author depicts the characters so well you can relate to their thinking. There is no real "hero" just an interaction between a number of persons which could be real life.
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on 11 April 2016
Started of about a very sad and lonely man - but wow- typical Ruth Rendell. The plot builds up slowly making compulsive reading even though the cruelty he inflicted as a child on a baby in his care made shocking reading. RR seems to get right inside the mind of "damaged" people and as always never disappoints.
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on 14 January 2016
This was my first book by this author, and I read it years ago when I was 14. I was amazed at how she portrayed such a lifelike character with such weird psychological traits. I was a little bit afraid of my neighbour after I had read this, as he seemed to fir this profile perfectly! I recently read it again and was just as scared!
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