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
A delicate London flower plucks up the courage to walk out on her abusive loverand 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 persistentand more vindictivethan 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.