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by Ruth Rendell
Doubleday Canada, November 2003
352 pages
ISBN: 0385660251

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The latest in Rendell's "London" series (THE KEYS TO THE STREET, ADAM AND EVE AND PINCH ME), Rendell continues her chronicles of the city today.

Here, a serial murderer is on the loose, the "Rottweiler" of the title, so called because a love-bite left on his first victim (the product of a passionate encounter with her boyfriend) has been misconstrued and exaggerated into a trademark by the sensational press. It is a nickname that the killer finds repellent, since he shrinks from physical contact with women and the thought of biting them is beyond endurance.

Yes, we do know who he is very early on; what neither he nor the reader know is what triggers his murderous assaults, why his compulsion has lain dormant for 30 years, and what in his past has prompted him to kill. The narrative interest of the book lies less in the murders than in the cast of characters that Rendell has assembled to carry the plot.

Most of them live in the house owned by Inez, the widow of an actor who played a television detective, who is still mourning his death and whose building in Camden Town contains flats and her antique shop. None of these characters are exactly what they seem, but they represent a fair cross section of London. From a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds, they hustle, re-invent themselves in ways they believe are more romantic or attractive than their actual selves, or merely do what they have to in order to get by. The police on the Rottweiler case are equally bemused by these shifting appearances and their large and heavy boots create a kind of havoc that borders on the tragic.

Rendell presents all her characters dispassionately and without compromise, revealing their failings and weaknesses but never condemning any of them as incomprehensibly evil. Readers desiring either a police procedural or a psychological investigation of the serial killer phenomenon will probably come away from this somewhat disappointed. Rendell is, I think, up to something different here, what might be called a collective novel, one less interested in a particular crime or series of crimes than in the complicated interaction among urban individuals who have little definable past and an uncertain future. It is a difficult project and one that, while not absolutely successful, is still extremely interesting. Recommended.

This review refers to the Canadian edition. It appears to have been published in the UK and Australia, but not in the US to date.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, December 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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