The Rottweiler, Ruth Rendell, Crown, $25.00.
Ruth Rendell is aging gracefully. While not completely mellowing, she has softened somewhat since some of her more intense work of the past - The Brimstone Wedding and A Dark Adapted Eye come to mind - but that doesn't mean her intelligence has been diluted or that she's become mushy in any way. Like Patricia Wentworth's main character, Maud Silver, whose admirers say of her that seeing inside the human soul is, for her, like looking through a glass fronted cabinet (I'm paraphrasing), Ruth Rendell's perceptive insight into human behavior and character is just as crystal clear. No kind of human being, of any race, age, or gender, is mysterious to her, and as she describes the many intertwining and very different characters in her latest novel, The Rottweiler, you find yourself paying attention as she lays bare their souls, making it look easy.
The two characters she seems to have the most affinity for are Inez, the owner of an antique shop with apartments above it, and the "Rottweiler" himself, a serial killer so named because one of his first victims had a bite mark. It soon becomes not only obvious that the Rottweiler lives in the neighborhood (else why set the story there?) but also who the Rottweiler might be, in a choice among the very different tenants of Inez's building. Rendell, a recent widow herself, describes Inez's loneliness after the death of her beloved husband, Martin, in a heartbreaking yet unsentimental way. This is the way things are, she seems to be saying - and for strong women like Rendell and Inez, that may be the case.
The other character she lavishes her attention on, that of the killer, is just as sensitively drawn. The killer himself can't figure out why he behaves as he does, until an incident late in the book triggers a memory. The uncovering of the memory is both moving and believable. The only way these novels are unlike life is in their careful structure; complex and intelligent, the loose ends are tied up or disposed of neatly by the end of the book. This novel reminds me much more of more recent books of Rendell's, Adam and Eve and Pinch Me and A Sight for Sore Eyes. That there are still so many complex novels to be read and enjoyed by this wonderfully prolific and brilliant writer is a gift to all readers. Don't miss out on one of the true jewels of crime writing.
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