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3.8 out of 5 stars
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3.8 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 December 2003
John Creevey could only guess at what the coded messages were for...were they the work of a drugs ring, a protection racket, a spy ring, or something else equally sinister?
Unbeknownst to him, John has stumbled upon some teenagers' spy-game, played out between two rival "centres" based in the city. They play amateurish espionage games, trying always to get one-up on one another, and leave coded messages detailing latest orders and objectives. Recently separated from his wife, John is lonely and slightly depressed, and becomes obsessed with these strange messages. Sometimes, he dedicates whole days to cracking the codes, and eventually these strange messages drag John and those around him down into a tangle of revenge and murder.
This is classic Rendell, which is of course to say that it is crime writing that does not get any better. The mundane details of everyday life ground the plot firmly in a hard reality, but the originality and hints of surrealism cast it into darkness and make it sparkle with something very special indeed. The characters are drawn with brilliant insight - the children playing their inconsequential power-games are brilliant generic creations, and John, obsessing over the codes and messages as they rush to fill the void in his life. Of course, the twin plotlines merge in the end as only a Rendellian plot can, in an understated cataclysm of unexpected brutality. She spins her web with care and tenderness, and then inevitably it traps its victim, horrifically.
In many ways, of course Talking to Strange Men is trademark Rendell. It contains everything we expect, but of course it is also unique in its originality. That she has written over 50 books now and has yet to repeat herself and continues to be original is a truly stunning achievement. Most authors become stale after about ten books. It is testament to Rendell's huge talent that she has not fallen foul of this - she has always refused to stick within boundaries of any kind, and the genre is far richer for her.
This book, also a clever homage to the espionage genre, is another superb achievement from the author. A twisted, strange, compelling piece of brilliance.
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on 23 November 2011
I'm not overly familiar with Ruth Rendell's work, and stumbled across this by chance in the local library. I think it's a fascinating read, exceptionally well-written and shot through with wonderful descriptions of an unnamed city (somewhere in the UK, probably in England) through the changing weather and seasons between winter and the end of summer.

Overall, it combines a fairly standard "husband dumped for former lover" with an initially standard "unexplained murder from years ago" with an original "schoolboys playing at spies". Along with these three major plot lines, other strands intertwine. Although the coincidences that link the strands are possibly a little *too* coincidental, there are some satisfyingly surprising reveals, some unexpected twists and turns, and a well-crafted murky ending.

The writing is quite dark, and the tone quite subdued and restrained. I found it very intelligently written, by which I mean that not everything is explained and much lies waiting to be deduced by the thoughtful reader. There's much less dialogue than in many novels of and about the period, and the author manages to write many passages of descriptive prose that deserve careful, loving reading. Especially the description of the city, as mentioned earlier.

An excellent book.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 December 2003
John Creevey could only guess at what the coded messages were for...were they the work of a drugs ring, a protection racket, a spy ring, or something else equally sinister?
Unbeknownst to him, John has stumbled upon some teenagers' spy-game, played out between two rival "centres" based in the city. They play amateurish espionage games, trying always to get one-up on one another, and leave coded messages detailing latest orders and objectives. Recently separated from his wife, John is lonely and slightly depressed, and becomes obsessed with these strange messages. Sometimes, he dedicates whole days to cracking the codes, and eventually these strange messages drag John and those around him down into a tangle of revenge and murder.
This is classic Rendell, which is of course to say that it is crime writing that does not get any better. The mundane details of everyday life ground the plot firmly in a hard reality, but the originality and hints of surrealism cast it into darkness and make it sparkle with something very special indeed. The characters are drawn with brilliant insight - the children playing their inconsequential power-games are brilliant generic creations, and John, obsessing over the codes and messages as they rush to fill the void in his life. Of course, the twin plotlines merge in the end as only a Rendellian plot can, in an understated cataclysm of unexpected brutality. She spins her web with care and tenderness, and then inevitably it traps its victim, horrifically.
In many ways, of course Talking to Strange Men is trademark Rendell. It contains everything we expect, but of course it is also unique in its originality. That she has written over 50 books now and has yet to repeat herself and continues to be original is a truly stunning achievement. Most authors become stale after about ten books. It is testament to Rendell's huge talent that she has not fallen foul of this - she has always refused to stick within boundaries of any kind, and the genre is far richer for her.
This book, also a clever homage to the espionage genre, is another superb achievement from the author. A twisted, strange, compelling piece of brilliance.
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on 9 February 2013
I really enjoyed this story, its theme was original but very credible. It was very gripping throughout and particularly so in the rather frightening scene towards the end. It's a psychological thriller as all those originally published under the name of Barbara Vine, I prefer these to the ordinary whodunnit. I thoroughly recommend this book.
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on 16 July 2013
I enjoyed the way the separate story lines wove together. A group of school kids playing spies and a bereaved brother have no knowledge of each other's existence and nothing in common yet a chance observation leads to unanticipated consequences.
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on 21 July 2013
I am now on my 4th reading of this book (now that it's on Kindle). It's very satisfying to read thanks to the tight plotting (which is an aspect of Rendell's writing that has got weaker in her later book with a reliance on coincidences). In this earlier work she is on top form. It hooks the reader's interest right from the start and is an absorbing read as Rendell weaves the plotlines together. Then there was a payoff for me after I had finished the book for the first time - it stayed with me, and in thinking about it, I realised who and what it was "really" about. The book addresses the idea of someone who comes from a stable, prosperous background in a loving family and yet will become a dangerous man, a criminal. How does this happen? The working out of this idea is the most satisfying aspect of the book for me and is what brings me back to reread it.
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on 24 August 2012
This is Ruth Rendell at her best. The plot knits together beautifully, the characterization is superb. An enthralling and gripping book.
My only gripe is that most of her books in kindle have five or six misprints or typos which I never used to find in her conventional books. I hope she sees this review and takes action. For example in this book at one of the most exciting moments the reader cannot help but have their concentration damaged when they read 'It swept down in an avenging are, missing Charles by inches.' That would be 'arc' not 'are' I assume!
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on 29 July 2013
I was very disappointed with this book. It is the first Ruth Rendell book that I have not liked. I did not read all of it as I found it very hard to get into, all about messages being left places. A bit of a spy story. Not for me.
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on 16 May 2013
Excellent as always ,good condition and service ,thanks. The story is timeless ,lots of detail and atmosphere ,intrigue and suspense
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on 7 April 2014
If you haven't read it, do so. Ruth Rendell at her very best - excellent plot, clear and gripping. Thoroughly enjoyable!!!
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