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The Keys to the Street

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Overview

Lush green by day, darkly sinister by night, Regent's Park hosts an underworld of drug ushers and thugs, of London's homeless and the unseen killer who is impaling them, one by one, on the ornate railings that encircle the park.

Theirs is a world light years away from Mary Jago's elegant new home and museum job across the park. Mary, in an uncharacteristic act of self-assertion, has left her abusive boyfriend and, in an act of humanity, has donated her bone marrow to a stranger....

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The Keys to the Street

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Overview

Lush green by day, darkly sinister by night, Regent's Park hosts an underworld of drug ushers and thugs, of London's homeless and the unseen killer who is impaling them, one by one, on the ornate railings that encircle the park.

Theirs is a world light years away from Mary Jago's elegant new home and museum job across the park. Mary, in an uncharacteristic act of self-assertion, has left her abusive boyfriend and, in an act of humanity, has donated her bone marrow to a stranger. She then meets the fragile young man whose life she saved--Leo, flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone, a twin soul--and becomes deeply involved with him.

But Mary's boldness has its price. Among the park's shattered hopes and new dreams, something dark and deadly waits for her...eager to rob her of something more precious than life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a story that commandsand fully rewardsintense engagement from its readers, Rendell (The Crocodile Bird; Simisola) once again proves an astute, intense observer of physical and psychological detail, demonstrating that we are surrounded by people we don't see and fail to appreciate the ways in which intimates and strangers are connected to us. Housesitting in a posh home near London's Regent's Park lets Mary Jago separate from her abusive and persistent lover, whose behavior has worsened since she decided to donate bone marrow to save the life of an anonymous recipient. When she meets Leo Nash, the marrow recipient, she enters a heady courtship with the stranger whose very being is now linked to hers. While she does notice Bean, the strange little man who works as a dog walker and behaves like a ``superior upper servant'' in an old film, and she cheerfully finds kind words for Roman Ashton, one of the area's many ``dossers,'' or street people, Mary little suspects how complex their histories are, what their fears and schemes might be or what they notice in return. Likewise, she is sheltered from the fears of the area's homeless as one after another is killed and then impaled on the spikes of park railings. When a crack is exposed in the edifice of Mary's new and happy life, the death lurking beneath it may be something else she never fully comprehends. With this meticulously crafted work, Rendell reminds us how complex, interconnected and fragile modern life is. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Someone is murdering the homeless of Regents Park by impalement, so why is Mary seeking solace in their company?
School Library Journal
YARendell is again in top form in this suspenseful tale of a 30-year-old woman housesitting in a posh section of London. Mary Jago is unassuming, quiet, loath to speak up or out even in her own defensealmost mousy. She has finally worked up the courage to break up with the abusive boyfriend with whom she lives and is about to make contact with the young man to whom she donated bone marrow some months earlier. While this plot is developing, readers meet some less savory characters inhabiting the neighborhood, including a crack addict and some of his contacts and a homeless man whose mysterious past is only gradually made apparent. Mary falls in love with the bone-marrow recipient and seems to be living in an almost dreamlike state until her grandmother dies and leaves her a great deal of money, thus changing her life in ways Mary could not have dreamed. The well-drawn psychological profiles of a rather large cast and the ways in which their lives converge almost overshadow the riddle of the bodies of homeless men periodically found impaled on the fence railings of a grand park in the area. Rendell's themes, that things are seldom what they seem, and that we all go through life with blinders on, hardly understanding or even seeing what is going on around us, are extremely well executed.Judy McAloon, Potomac Library, Prince William County, VA
Kirkus Reviews
A delicate London flower plucks up the courage to walk out on her abusive lover—and into a vintage Rendell nightmare.

Taking advantage of her house-sitting gig outside Regent's Park, Mary Jago gives Alistair Fowler his notice; and as if by magic, a new romantic interest springs up: Leo Nash, the recipient of Mary's bone-marrow transplant, whom she's previously known only as Oliver. Leo's as gentle and considerate, as sympathetic and loving, as Alistair was everything but, and in no time Mary's counting the hours between their decorous meetings. But there are already clouds Mary doesn't see on the horizon. At first the omens are only vaguely troubling, circling around the obsessions of Roman Ashton, a magazine editor sunk to life on the streets after losing his family to a freak accident; old Leslie Bean, who can't forget his irregular relations with his late employers; and Hob, who drifts through the park in a perpetual haze while he's waiting for his next fix. But the menace soon takes on a sharper edge. The police start to find street people gruesomely impaled on the ornamental gates of the park. Bean, who's been mugged in the park, swears revenge against his attacker and considers a spot of genteel blackmail on the side. Alistair turns out to be more persistent—and more vindictive—than Mary could ever have imagined. Veterans of Rendell's peerlessly doomy fantasies (The Crocodile Bird, 1993, etc.) will know that all these perturbations are nothing more than symptoms of the real problem: the secret that makes perfect mate Leo perfectly dreadful.

Like Rendell's last Chief Inspector Wexford mystery (Simisola, 1995), this poignant tale shows the author at her most extroverted: Under her tireless probing, every social class that Regent's Park brings together turns out to be equally pathological.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679774037
  • Publisher: Random House Large Print
  • Publication date: 8/20/1996
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 470
  • Product dimensions: 6.09 (w) x 9.15 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

Ruth Rendell
Ruth Rendell is the recipient of several awards, including three Edgars and four Gold Daggers from the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association. Simisola, Blood Lines, Keys to the Street, and The Brimstone Wedding (written as Barbara Vine) are available from Brilliance Audio. She lives in England.

Biography

From the start of her illustrious career, Ruth Rendell's novels have blurred the distinction between literature and commercial fiction. Although Rendell is classified as a writer of mysteries and crime thrillers, her elegant prose and superb literary skills elevate her far above the conventions of those genres.

Born Ruth Barbara Grasemann in London in 1930, she attended the Loughton County High School for Girls in Essex, then went to work as a features writer for the Essex newspapers. In 1950, she married her boss at the newspaper, journalist Donald Rendell. (They divorced in 1975, remarried two years later, and remained together until his death in 1999.) For the next decade, she juggled marriage, motherhood, and part-time writing. She produced at least two unpublished novels before hitting pay dirt in 1964 with From Doon with Death, the first mystery to feature Chief Inspector Reginald 'Reg' Wexford of the Kingsmarkham Police Force. An immediate bestseller, the book launched Rendell's career and marked the beginning of one of the most successful and enduring series in detective fiction.

In 1965, Rendell published her second novel, a deft crime thriller (with no police presence) entitled To Fear a Painted Devil. For 20 years, she was content to alternate installments in the Wexford series with a steady stream of bestselling standalones that explored darker themes like envy, sexual obsession, and the tragic repercussions of miscommunication. Then, in 1986, she began a third strand of fiction under the name Barbara Vine. The very first of these books, A Dark-Adapted Eye, earned a prestigious Edgar Award.

From the get-go, the pseudonymous Vine novels had a separate DNA, although Rendell has always had difficulty pinpointing the distinction. In an interview with NPR, she tried to explain: "I don't think the Barbara Vines are mysteries in any sense. I must say that. They are different, and that is partly how I decide. The idea would come to me and I would know at once whether it was to be a Barbara Vine or a Ruth Rendell ... The Barbara Vine is much more slowly paced. It is a much more in-depth, searching sort of book; it doesn't necessarily have a murder in it. It's almost always set partly in the past, sometimes quite a long way in the past. And I think all these things come together and make them very different from the Ruth Rendells."

Under both names, Rendell has garnered numerous awards, including three American Edgars and multiple Gold and Silver Daggers from England's distinguished Crime Writers' Association. In 1996, she was made a Commander of the British Empire; and in 1997, a Life Peerage was conferred on her as Baroness Rendell of Babergh. Although, in her own words, she was "slightly stunned" by the peerage, she takes her responsibilities quite seriously, writing in the mornings and attending the House of Lords several afternoons a week.

Praise for Rendell is lavish and seemingly unqualified. John Mortimer once proclaimed that she would surely have won the Booker if she had not been pigeonholed as a "crime writer." Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison has identified Rendell as one of her favorite authors. And Joyce Carol Oates has called her "one of the finest practitioners of the craft in the English-speaking world."

Good To Know

While working as a journalist, Rendell once reported on a local club's annual dinner without actually attending. Her story omitted the crucial fact that the after-dinner speaker had dropped dead at the podium in the middle of his speech! She resigned before being fired.

The pseudonym Barbara Vine derives from the combination of Rendell's middle name and her great-grandmother's maiden name.

"I wouldn't keep my age a secret even if I had the chance," Rendell has said. "But I don't have the chance. Regularly, on February 17, the newspapers tell their readers my age."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Barbara Vine
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 17, 1930
    2. Place of Birth:
      London, England
    1. Education:
      Loughton County High School for Girls, Essex

Reading Group Guide

1. Do you feel Rendell is more interested in exploring the psychological states of her characters than in unravelling a elaborate plot or solving a complex crime? How does this affect your enjoyment of the book?

2. There is relatively little violence in The Keys to the Street and what there is, is not particularly graphic. Consider the methods the author uses to generate the book's atmosphere of tension and menace.

3. How does Rendell's prose style contribute to the novel's feeling of near-reality?

4. Discuss the ways in which the author links together the different worlds of her characters. What devices does she use? How successful are they?

5. Are the issues around themes such as homelessness, drug addiction and bone marrow transplants explored convincingly? Should The Keys to the Street be regarded as more than just a crime novel?

6. At the end of a traditional murder-mystery, social order is restored by the identification and punishment of the criminal. How is the world of The Keys to the Street not only different, but more disturbing?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2014

    An excellent story

    This is a wonderful book. Engaging characters in a vital setting capture you as they reveal the story. This book sucks you in, and makes you think. A page-turner for all the right reasons.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 16, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Well written

    The book revolves around two plots both of which is interesting. One is a murder mystery involving horrific deaths of street people. The other is the romantic life of Mary Jago. Ruth Rendell is an author who sets up her story lines and characters expertly. Well worth reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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