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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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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.
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.
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?
Posted January 11, 2011
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