The Rag and Bone Shop

The Rag and Bone Shop

by Robert Cormier

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780440229711
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 05/13/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 245,594
Product dimensions: 4.19(w) x 6.94(h) x 0.45(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Robert Cormier’s many acclaimed novels include the classics The Chocolate War and I Am the Cheese. He is a recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award, honoring his lifetime contribution to writing for teens.

Date of Birth:

January 17, 1925

Date of Death:

November 2, 2000

Place of Birth:

Leominster, Massachusetts

Place of Death:

Leominster, Massachusetts


Fitchburg State College

Read an Excerpt

Part I

“Feeling better?”

“I guess so. My headache’s gone. Is there a connection?”

“Maybe. They say confession’s good for the soul. But I don’t know if it eliminates headaches.”

“Am I supposed to say I’m sorry now?”

“The fact that you confessed indicates a degree of sorrow.”

“Is that enough?”

“That’s up to you, Carl. What you did can’t be erased, of course.”

“I know. They’re dead. Gone. Can’t bring them back. But—can the sin be erased?”

“I can’t tell you that. I’m not a priest.”

“But I confessed to you.”

“Yes, but I can’t give you absolution.”


“Are the police coming?”

“They’re waiting outside.”

Trent shut off the tape player and leaned back in the chair, kneaded the flesh above his eyebrows. In the silence of the office, he still heard Carl Seaton’s voice, all cunning gone, penitent, full of regret. Trent had sat across from him for four hours, under the harsh light of a 100-watt ceiling bulb, in the small cluttered office. The relentless questions and answers, the evasions and rationalizations, the eventual admission (not the same as a confession), and, finally, the confession itself.

The Trent magic touch at work, as a newspaper headline had once proclaimed. But Trent felt no particular magic now, no thrill of accomplishment. Too many confessions? Like Carl Seaton’s? Having induced Carl to confess (that old Trent magic has you in its spell), Trent had had to listen to the recitation of his cold-blooded, deliberate murder of three people. The victims were a thirty-five-year-old woman, her thirty-seven-year-old husband and their ten-year-old son, although Carl hadn’t known their ages at the time.

Six months ago, in the milky whiteness of a winter dawn, Carl Seaton had broken into the modest two-story home of Aaron and Muriel
Stone to steal the small gun collection in the cellar. He admitted that he knew nothing about guns except the pleasure of holding them in his hands and the sense of power they gave him. Carl Seaton broke a cellar window, not worried about the noise of his intrusion, having learned that the family was away on vacation and that there was no alarm system.

He was disappointed to find that there were only three small guns in the so-called collection. He was surprised to find that the guns were loaded. He then decided to search the house. Thought he might find something of value, although he knew nothing about fencing stolen goods. Heard a noise from the second floor. Padded toward the stairs, his sneakers noiseless in the carpeted hallway. Upstairs, he entered a bedroom and was surprised to see a man and woman asleep in the bed. The woman slightly curled up, the bedclothes thrown off. Beautiful eyelashes, thick and curved. The husband flat on his back, mouth open, snoring gently. Carl became conscious of the gun in his hand, felt suddenly the power of his position. What it must feel like to be—God. Looking down at them, so helpless and defenseless, it occurred to him that he could do anything he wanted with them. They were at his mercy. He wondered what the woman would look like without her blue nightgown on. He had never seen an actual naked woman, only in magazines, movies and videos. But it was too much of a bother now to think about that. He didn’t want to spoil this nice feeling, just standing there, knowing he was in charge. He raised the gun and shot them. First, the man. The bullet exploded through the thin blanket, small shreds of green cloth filling the air like rain, the noise of the shot not as loud as he’d imagined it would be. As the woman leaped awake, her eyes flying open, he shot her in the mouth, marveled at the gush of blood and the way her eyes became fixed and frozen in shock. A mighty sneeze shook his body, the smell of gunpowder heavy in the air.

He wondered: Was there anybody else in the house who might have heard the shots? He went into the hallway, opened a door at the far end, saw a boy sleeping in a bed shaped almost like a boat, hair in neat bangs on his forehead. The boy’s eyelids fluttered. Carl wondered whether he should shoot him or not. Then decided that the boy would be better off if he did. Terrible thing to wake up and find your mother and father dead. Murdered. Carl shot the boy as an act of kindness, nodding, feeling good about it, generous.

Carl Seaton had confessed his acts of murder almost eagerly, glad to provide the details that would lead to his own doom, his voice buoyant with relief. Which was often the case with those who finally acknowledged their acts.

Trent felt only contempt for Carl Seaton, although he had simulated sympathy and compassion during the interrogation. Acting was only another facet of interrogating subjects. If he felt any compassion at the moment, it was for Carl Seaton’s parents. Carl was seventeen years old.

Reading Group Guide

In Robert Cormier’s unforgettable novels, an individual often stands alone, fighting for what is right–or just to survive–against powerful, sinister, and sometimes evil people. His books look unflinchingly at tyranny and the abuse of power, at treachery and betrayal, at guilt and forgiveness, love and hate, and the corruption of innocence. Cormier’s gripping stories explore some of the darker corners of the human psyche, but always with a moral focus and a probing intelligence that compel readers to examine their own feelings and ethical beliefs.

The questions that follow are intended to spur discussion and to provoke thoughtful readers to contemplate some of the issues of identity, character, emotion, and morality that make Cormier’s books so compelling

1. The title of this novel is drawn from two lines of a poem by William Butler Yeats, “The Circus Animals’ Desertion.” How does the phrase “the rag and bone shop” (i.e., a place where the worst castoffs end up) sum up the essence of this novel? What is Trent saying about his life when he quotes these two lines? (p. 71) And when he shifts into the final phase of the interrogation and remembers the first line? (p. 123)

2. After Jason vanquishes the bully Bobo Kelton with one blow, “he didn’t think he’d ever hit anybody again but he had proved himself capable of doing it.” (p. 26) How does the second part of that sentence become a weapon later for Trent? Why does hitting Bobo mean an end to Jason’s tears? Is the principal right when he says violence never solves anything?

3. Trent’s deceased wife Lottie had told him, “You are what you do.” Why, coming from her, is this an accusation? How, coming from Trent himself at the end, is it a death sentence? Is it true that people are what they do, not only in their jobs, but in the sum total of all their acts, good and bad? Can this be changed?

4. Sarah Downes (and also Carl Seaton) compares Trent to a priest. How are Trent’s interrogations like what a priest does in the confessional? But what crucial differences in Trent’s intentions and capabilities make the outcome for his “perps” entirely different?

5. The exact definitions of the following words are important to understanding the ideas that underlie Cormier’s themes of guilt, innocence, and forgiveness. Look up admission, confession, absolution, indictment, and remission and notice how their definitions overlap and where they differ. How are these terms central to this story?

6. What are the heavy external and internal pressures on Trent to get a confession from Jason? In real life, is it possible that this kind of pressure may result in hasty convictions of innocent people? Have you heard of any such cases? What might be done to keep this from happening?

7. Trent says he has “rules and regulations” for interrogations. What are some of these strategies that relate to the preliminary scenario, the physical set-up of the room, and the subtleties of psychological intimidation? How do these interrogation techniques affect the suspect?

8. “Thrust and parry” is a phrase Trent uses to describe the interrogation. From what sport does this expression come, and what image does it evoke? As the questioning proceeds, Trent suddenly knows irrevocably that Jason is innocent. How does he talk himself out of acting on this realization? What would have been the consequences if he had allowed himself to follow his conscience?

9. A stunning plot twist takes us by surprise when Trent emerges into the hall after he has tricked Jason into “confessing” and is told by Sarah Downes that Brad Bartlett has just admitted to killing his sister. Suddenly everything is different. What are the present and future implications of this new situation for Trent? For Jason? What emotions might they each have felt at this moment that they didn’t feel?

10. In the end, Jason’s view of reality has been badly twisted by Trent’s perverse questioning and his own false confession. What does he tell himself to justify his plan to kill Bobo? How will this action restore his self-respect? If he carries through on this murder, who will then need to confess?

Discussion questions prepared by Patty Campbell, author of Presenting Robert Cormier (Twayne, Dell) and 1989 winner of the ALA’s Grolier Foundation Award for distinguished service to young adults and libraries.

Customer Reviews

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Rag and Bone Shop 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 97 reviews.
Jerry Lamontagne More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Robert Cormier has done it again. This is a wonderful book. I read it in one day and could not put it down. Chapters are short and suspenseful. Of course, the end keeps you wanting more. I wonder if he planned a sequel while writing this. Unfortunately, we will never know the answer.
GaylDasherSmith on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Nobody does creepy like Cormier. This, though, isn't one of his best. His young protagonist is a bit too naive, but I think teens will see this character as someone they once knew.
francescadefreitas on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This wisp of a story was full of suspense, but I guessed the ending fairly quickly, and did not care enough about either of the main characters enough to form any emotional response.
meggyweg on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This was a bittersweet read for me, as it was Cormier's last book, published posthumously. I can only wonder if it might have been different if he had lived to see it reach the editor's desk. Nevertheless it is classic Cormier: spare prose, good pace and an unflinching look at facts as they really are. The ending explodes like a nuclear warhead. A bit of trivia: when Cormier originally conceived the story, the character Trent was actually Brint from I am the Cheese. And for all we know, he could still be. There are certainly parallels.
DeirdreHarris on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This mystery, Cormier's final novel before his death, explores the notions of police questioning and false confessions at they pertain to a child murder suspect of a young murder victim. This tension-filled ALA Best Book for Young Adults winner is an admirable way of getting youth interested in law and the implications of the law's psychological effect on impressionable children.
elizabethholloway on LibraryThing 5 months ago
(Mystery HS) This book is disturbing. It describes how a skilled adult can manipulate a vulnerable youth. The portrayal of the interrogation (which takes up a large chunk of the book) is sufficiently detailed to make the false confession believable. What is less believable is the idea that as a result that Jason himself would become a killer. That last piece stretches the imagination. Though the protagonist of the book is twelve, high school students would enjoy the psychological intrigue of this book.
Ryan_T 7 months ago
This book was so great. It had lots of short and suspenseful chapters that kept me on my toes the entire time. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that wants a quick good read. I decided to read this book for its dramatic plot but it turned out to be so interesting to read. Jason Dorrant is the main character who is a suspect for the murder of a young girl named Alicia Bartlett. Jason was interrogated by a man who has never failed to get a confession out of a suspect. The book is mostly a conversation between the interrogator and Jason. The book was well written so that the reader wants to go on to the next chapter. I found myself threw the pages for hours. Anybody who is interested in mysteries or suspenseful stories should read this book. I'd say that this book is appropriate for anyone 13+ because of the brutal death of the young girl and the disturbing ending when we find out about the killer. Sadly this book did not earn a five because it did not include all of the details about what happened with some of the key characters after the confession. The book is worth $6.99 for sure. Jason Dorrant is a character that lots of people can relate to in some ways making him a good main character in this story. The name of the interrogator was Trent and he wanted to get Jason to confess even if he didn't actually murder her, While reading this book I felt like I was watching a movie because of the imagery and other literary devices that were used throughout. The book was not long but it was never boring and I personally loved this book. Rag and Bone Shop was short and sweet and I think 9/10 people would enjoy this book thanks for reading and enjoy the book.
bmozanich on LibraryThing 8 months ago
The Rag and Bone shop is a suspenseful, thrilling, murder mystery. The reader begins to wonder about suspects as he is immediately drawn into the story. The two main characters are complex and keep the reader questioning personality traits, hidden agendas, and motives. Cormier does a fantastic job of building suspense and discomfort during the interrogation sessions. It is easy to feel empathy for Jason and fear of Detective Trent. The manipulation is well described with relevant details. Jason¿s fears are real and believable. Readers will identify with the idea of adults manipulating situations to overwhelm teens.
Emibrarian on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Trent, an ace interrogator from Vermont, works to procure a confession from an introverted twelve-year-old, Jason, accused of murdering his friend in Massachusetts. Well written and a quick read, but has a very disturbing ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It wasn't the but but wasn't the worst It was slow but a page turner because you want to know who done it I wush it would have been longer then 65 pages!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How many pages is this book?
2-chainz More than 1 year ago
The story is of the brutal murder of a seven-year-old girl named Alicia Bartlett and the interrogation of a twelve-year-old boy, named Jason Dorrant, who is her friend and the last known person to see her alive. Trent, an expert interrogator, known to get confessions which seemed impossible to obtain and has never lost a case, is called in for the case. you will have to read the book to get the rest its a good book
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In darckclans camp there is a small pile contaning the food,usaully it hadfrogs,voles,mice,and if were lucky a squirrle
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My language arts teacher recomended this book and she warite to do it . This was an amazing book
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