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The Chimney Sweeper's Boy

The Chimney Sweeper's Boy

4.0 6
by Barbara Vine, Ruth Rendell

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An unforgettable tale of mystery and obsession by Barbara Vine (pseudonym of Ruth Rendell, winner of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement)

This is the utterly absorbing story of best-selling novelist Gerald Candless, whose sudden death from a heart attack leaves behind a wife and two doting daughters. To sort through her


An unforgettable tale of mystery and obsession by Barbara Vine (pseudonym of Ruth Rendell, winner of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement)

This is the utterly absorbing story of best-selling novelist Gerald Candless, whose sudden death from a heart attack leaves behind a wife and two doting daughters. To sort through her grief, one of his daughters, Sarah, decides to write a biography of her internationally celebrated father.
        Within hours of beginning her research, Sarah comes across the first of what will be many shocking revelations. As her life is slowly torn apart, a terrible logic finally emerges to explain her mother's remoteness, her father's need to continually reinvent himself in his work, and a long-forgotten London murder.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Patricia Cornwell Unequivocally the most brilliant mystery novelist of our times.

Joyce Carol Oates The New York Times Book Review One of the finest practitioners of her craft in the English-speaking world.

Entertainment Weekly As [a] tantalizing puzzle unravels...the book delivers the oft-discounted pleasures of the page-turner.

P.D. James Barbara Vine has transcended her genre by her remarkable imaginative power to explore and illuminate the dark corners of the human psyche.

Patricia Cornwell Her stories are a lesson in a human nature as capable of the most exotic love as it is of the cruelest murder. She does not avert her gaze...she magnificently triumphs in a style that is uniquely hers and mesmerizing.

Scott Turow She is a writer whose work should be read by anyone who enjoys a brilliant mystery — or distinguished literature.

Time When Ruth Rendell, already the best mystery writer in the English-speaking world, launched a second byline, Barbara Vine, she actually stepped up her writing level.

Kirkus Reviews [A] richly textured suspenser...Vine at her most weblike.

Amazon.com Riveting...Vine proves herself the equal of her alter ego and a master of the psychological thriller....[A] distinguished literary mystery.

The best mystery writer in the English-speaking world.
Joyce Carol Oates
One of the finest practitioners of her craft. -- New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A dead author turns out to be anything but the blandly successful public figure he'd pretended to be for 40 years, in Ruth Rendell's ninth as Barbara Vine - a slow-moving, richly textured suspenser. Even as Gerald Candless was making a comfortable living from a long series of novels that reviewers praised as wise and humane, his private life told another story. His loyal wife Ursula, civilly estranged from any intimacy with him ever since the birth of their daughter Hope, deals with his sudden death by snipping the stamps from his voluminous correspondence and discarding the envelopes, then going back to work as a day-care provider. The daughters Gerald was so close to—the obituary they compose describes him as "adored"—are more properly grief-stricken. But when older daughter Sarah agrees to take time from her women's studies research at the University of London to write a biography of her father, her tears swiftly turn to astonishment that everything he told his family about his early life was false. In the face of the chronicle of his early years that Sarah and Hope had dutifully recycled for his obituary, Gerald Candless hadn't existed before 1951, when an enterprising young journalist decided to swap his identity for that of a child long dead of meningitis. What made Gerald Candless's identity so attractive to the young man who went on to reinvent himself in a score of tantalizingly veiled novels—or what made the identity he fled so unbearable? Vine's many fans will take it as no more than their due to find that Gerald's mystery is wrapped around a forgotten murder, but even they may be surprised to learn what role Gerald played in the killing. Not at the level of"The Brimstone Wedding" (1996), this latest excursion into the harrowing past shows Vine at her most weblike, with the murder case that Sarah Candless backs into almost an afterthought in a novel whose people—right up to the final merciful release—all seem long dead, dying, or hopelessly immured in the past.

Product Details

Washington Square Press
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Not a word to my girls, he had said on the way home from the hospital.
My girls, as if they also weren't hers. She was used to it; he always said that, and in a way they were more his. I'm not hearing this, she said.
You're going to have major surgery and your grown-up children aren't to be told.
Major surgery, he said. You sound like Staff Nurse Samantha in a hospital sitcom. I wont have Sarah and Hope worried. I wont give them a day of hell while they await the result.
You flatter yourself, she thought, but that was just spite. He didn't. They would have a day of hell; they would have anguish, while she had a little mild trepidation.
He made her promise. It wasn't difficult. She wouldn't have cared for the task of telling them.

The girls came down as usual. In the summer they came down every weekend, and in the winter, too, unless the roads were impassable. They had forgotten the Romney's were coming to lunch, and Hope made a face, what her father called a square mouth, a snarl, pushing her head forward and curling back her lips.
Be thankful its only lunch, said Gerald. When I first met the guy, I asked him for the weekend.
He refused? Sarah said it as if she were talking of someone turning down a free round-the-world cruise.
No, he didn't refuse. I wrote to him, asked him for lunch, and said he could stay at the hotel.
Everyone laughed except Ursula.
He's got a wife he's bringing.
Oh, God, Daddy, is there more? He hasn't got kids, has he?
If he has, they're not invited. Gerald smiled sweetly at his daughters. He said thoughtfully, We might play the Game.
With them? Oh, do lets, said Hope, We haven't played the Gamefor ages.

Titus and Julia Romney were much honored by an invitation from Gerald Candless, and if they had expected to be put up in the house and not have to pay for a room at the Dunes, they hadn't said so, not even to each other. Julia had anticipated eccentricity from someone so distinguished, even rudeness, and she was pleasantly surprised to encounter a genial host, a gracious, if rather silent, hostess, and two good-looking young women who turned out to be the daughters.

Titus, who had his naive side, as she well knew, was hoping for a look at the room where the work was done. And perhaps a present. Not a first edition, that would be expecting too much, but any book signed by the author. Conversation on literary matters, how he wrote, when he wrote, and even, now the daughters had appeared, what it was like to be his child.

It was a hot, sunny day in July, a few days before the start of the high season at the hotel, or they wouldn't have gotten a room. Lunch was in a darkish, cool dining room with no view of the sea. Far from discussing books, the Candless's talked about the weather, summer visitors, the beach, and Miss Batty, who was coming to clear the table and wash up. Gerald said Miss Batty wasn't much of a cleaner but that they kept her because her name made him laugh. There was another Miss Batty and a Mrs. Batty, and they all lived together in a cottage in Croyde. Sounds like a new card game, Unhappy Families, he said, and then he laughed and the daughters laughed.

In the drawing room -- so he called it -- the French windows were open onto the garden, the pink and blue hydrangea, the cliff edge, the long bow-shaped beach and the sea. Julia asked what the island was and Sarah said Lundy, but she said it in such a way as to imply only a total ignoramus would ask. Coffee was brought by someone who must have been Miss Batty and drinks were poured by Hope. Gerald and Titus drank port, Julia had a refill of the Meursault, and Sarah and Hope both had brandy. Sarah's brandy was neat, but Hope's had ice in it.

Then Gerald made the sort of announcement Julia hated, really hated. She didn't think people actually did this anymore, not in this day and age, not grown-ups. Not intellectuals.
And now we'll play the Game, Gerald had said. Let's see how clever you are.
Would it be wonderful to find someone who caught on at once, Daddy? said Hope. Or would we hate it?
We'd hate it, said Sarah, and she planted on Gerald's cheek on of those kisses that the Romney's found mildly embarrassing to witness.
He caught at her hand briefly. It never happens though, does it?
Julia met Ursula's eye and must have put inquiry into her glance. Or simply fear.
Oh, I shan't play, Ursula said. I shall go out for my walk.
In this heat?
I like it. I always walk along the beach in the afternoons.
Titus, who also disliked parlor games, asked what this one was called. Not this Unhappy Families you were talking about?
Its called I Pass the Scissors, said Sarah.
What do we have to do?
You have to do it right. That's all.
You mean we all have to do something and there's a right way and a wrong way of doing it?
She nodded.
How will we know?

The scissors were produced by Hope from a drawer in the tallboy. Once kitchen scissors had been used for the Game, or Ursula's sewing scissors or nail scissors, whatever came to hand. But the Game and the ascendancy it gave then afforded so much pleasure that, while his daughters still lived at home, Gerald had bought a pair of Victorian scissors with handles like a silver bird in flight and sharp pointed blades. It was these that Hope now handed to her father for him to begin.

Leaning forward in his armchair, his feet planted far apart, his back to the light, Gerald opened the scissors so that they formed a cross. He smiled. He was a big man, with a head journalists called leonine, though the lion was old now, with a grizzled, curly mane the color of iron filings. His hands were big and his fingers very long. He handed the scissors to Julia Romney and said, I pass the scissors uncrossed.

No, you don't. Hope closed the scissors, turned them over, and put them into the outstretched fingers of Titus Romney. I pass the scissors uncrossed.
Titus did the same and handed them to Sarah, saying with a glance at Gerald that he passed the scissors crossed.
Wrong. Sarah opened the scissors, held them by one blade, and passed them to her father. I pass the scissors crossed, Dad.
He closed them, turned them over twice clockwise, and passed them to Julia. I pass the scissors uncrossed.
Dawning comprehension, or what she thought was dawning comprehension, broke on Julia's face. She sat upright and turned the scissors over twice counterclockwise, handed them to Hope, and said she passed the scissors crossed.
Well, well, said Hope. But do you know why?
Julia didn't. She had guessed. But they're crossed when they're closed, aren't they?
Are they? You have to pass them crossed and know why, and everyone has to see. Look, when you know, its as clear as glass. I promise you. Hope opened the scissors. I pass the scissors crossed.
So they continued for half an hour. Titus Romney asked if anyone ever got it, and Gerald said yes, of course, it was just that no one ever got it at once. Jonathan Arthur had gotten it the second time. Impressed by the name of the winner of both the John Llewelyn Rhys and the Somerset Maugham prizes, Titus said he was really going to concentrate from now on. Sarah said she wanted another brandy and what about everyone else.
Another port, Dad?
I don't think so, darling. It gives me a headache. But you can give Titus one.
Sarah replenished the drinks, then sat down again this time on the arm of her fathers chair. I pass the scissors uncrossed.
But why? Julia Romney was beginning to sound irritated. She had gone rather red. Signs of participants beginning to lose their tempers always amused the Candless's who now looked gleeful and expectant. I mean, how can it be? The scissors are just the same as when you passed them crossed just now.
I told you it was unlikely you'd get it the first time, said Hope, and she yawned. I pass the scissors crossed.
You always pass them crossed!
Do I? Right, I'll pass them uncrossed next time.

What People are Saying About This

Patricia Cornwell
Unequivocally the most brilliant mystery novelist of our times...She magnificently triumphs in a style that is uniquely hers and merserizing.
P. D. James
Barbara Vine has transcended her genre by her remarkable imaginative power to explore and illuminate the dark corners of the human psyche.

Meet the Author

Barbara Vine's first novel, A Dark-Adapted Eye, won an Edgar Award, the highest individual honor of the Mystery Writers of America. A Fatal Inversion won the English equivalent, the Crime Writers Gold Dagger Award. Her most recent novel, The Brimstone Wedding, was published in 1996. She lives in London.

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The Chimney Sweeper's Boy 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There's a deep message here, it might not hit you until a day or so after finishing the book, but it's definately there tucked neatly behind the carefully plotted personality of Ursula. It's her character that is most memorable. The others fall in to a category of selfishness. It's why Ursula's selfishness at the end is so deserved. And if this story leads anyone to think twice before living a charade, great!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic. The twist at the end will stay with you for a long time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book sounded intriguing, but when you got down to reading it, it was a bit of a struggle to get though. I found the characters (perhaps excluding Ursula) largely unsympathetic and one in particular was downright annoying and not really necessary to the story. The book could have been 100-fewer pages and still would have gotten the point across. I was very disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Go to morning res 30!