No matter how quirky their personal foibles or how penetrating her analysis of their bizarre behavior, Rendell never loses affection for her beloved crackpots…Applying her formidable skills as a puppeteer, Rendell encourages the members of this cast to indulge their various obsessions in a plot that unfolds with the bleak gravity of Greek drama while following the insane logic of French farce.
The New York Times
London's Portobello Road, a street fabled for its shops and outdoor market, provides the backdrop for Edgar-winner Rendell's superlative suspense novel, which features a cast of colorful characters from varied classes and walks of life. Secretive 50-year-old Eugene Wren, who's addicted to cheap candy lozenges, is toying with marrying his longtime girlfriend, physician Ella Cotswold. Rootless Lance Platt cases the neighborhood for costly homes he can break into, and clashes with his great-uncle, Gilbert Gibson, a former burglar who now preaches the gospel. One man's losing 115 pounds triggers a series of coincidences that brings this disparate lot closer together, toward haphazard violence and death. Rendell (The Water's Lovely) is particularly adept at portraying young people just a dole check away from homelessness as well as the carelessness and callousness of the book's upper-middle-class characters. Her style has become ever more spare while retaining its subtle psychology and vivid sense of place. (Sept.)
“The characters jump off the page. The page-to-page surprises are so clever that the reader is left agape at each twist and turn. The pieces fit together brilliantly.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“An expert dissection of the hazards of human connections and the search for happiness.”—USA Today
“A novel that glides along Portobello Road like the lime in a gin and tonic. It's intoxicating.”—Newsday
British crime-writing phenom Rendell's (aka Barbara Vine) 2008 stand-alone novel is a dark, complex study set in Portobello, a neighborhood in London's Notting Hill.Well written and engaging, it features a web of lost money, mental illness, career criminals, addiction, and one-sided affection and contains exacting details about the numerous characters and their settings. British actor Tim Curry does a wonderful job with the wide cast of characters, translating the dense text into a brilliant audio experience. Sure to please Rendell's many fans as well those liking the work of Elizabeth George and Alexander McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series. [The Scribner hc also received a starred review, LJ 7/10.—Ed.]—Nicole A. Cooke, Montclair State Univ. Lib., NJ
What ought to be welcome news—the chance discovery of £115 dropped by a stricken passerby—is the catalyst that brings together another memorably ill-assorted crowd of neurotics, misfits and criminals bent on mischief.
Minutes after making a withdrawal from a Portobello Road ATM, unloved, unlovable Joel Roseman is felled by a heart attack. Sent to the hospital, he makes a prompt physical comeback but forms an unhealthy attachment, though one that isn't sexual ("I don't do sex," he says reassuringly), to his physician, Ella Cotswold. As the first of many coincidences would have it, Ella's boyfriend, silver-haired gallery owner Eugene Wren, finds an envelope containing most of the money Joel lost in his collapse. His decision to advertise his discovery attracts the notice of Lance Platt, a petty crook eager to graduate to the big time. Seething under the thumb of his grand-uncle Gilbert Gibson, a reformed burglar who seems an even greater menace to society as a fundamentalist Christian, Lance is determined to break into a flat or two, eat some of the food he finds, maybe pinch some jewelry or cash. The characters are endangered by more than each other. Lance's aspirations are threatened by his inability to see around the next curve, his propensity to get blamed for things he didn't do, and the enmity of Dwayne Wilson, the protective brother of the girlfriend who tossed Lance out after he beat her up. Joel's recovery is threatened by Mithras, a figure who first appeared to him in his near-death reverie and now won't go away. And Eugene, who seems to have everything going for him, is shaken to his core by his unlikely addiction to—wait for it—a sugar-free sweet.
The tectonic shifts that bring the characters together and tear them apart lack the inevitability of Rendell's most compelling exercises in the sociology of doom (The Water's Lovely, 2007, etc.). No wonder she relents and allows her characters something like a happy ending.