Ruth Rendell's latest book, 'Portobello,' has all her classic traits — and more
With author Ruth Rendell, it's all about control — or the lack of it. Obsession, loss of freedom, fierce urges, cluelessness, crumbling grips on reality; these are the enduring themes in her many novels, and all are front and center in her latest book of psychological suspense, "Portobello."
Special to The Seattle Times
By Ruth Rendell
Scribner, 220 pp., $26
With Ruth Rendell, it's all about control — or the lack of it. Obsession, loss of freedom, fierce urges, cluelessness, crumbling grips on reality: These are the enduring themes in her many novels, and all are front and center in her latest book of psychological suspense, "Portobello."
In her trademark matter-of-fact prose, this clear-eyed, quietly brilliant writer examines the ties that ensnare her small cast of characters — people linked in ways that are sometimes random, sometimes not. However they meet, everyone is connected somehow with the London street market that provides the book's title.
Lance is a brain-addled punk and amateur burglar with a tease of a girlfriend and an eccentric religious fanatic for an uncle. Eugene is a middle-aged art dealer in thrall to a growing addiction. Ella is a sweet-tempered physician and Eugene's fiancée.
And then there's Joel, a young man saddled with a wealthy, estranged father, a heart condition, an aversion to sunlight — and, as if that weren't enough, a ghostlike apparition who appeared after a near-death experience and now won't leave him alone.
The story begins as Joel collapses on the street and loses an envelope of money. Eugene finds it and tries to locate its rightful owner. Lance, dismally failing to get his hands on the money, settles for a little breaking and entering.
When Ella finds Joel and takes the money to him, she agrees to become the deeply needy young man's doctor. The plot's elegant clockwork is thus set in full motion.
"Portobello" strikes a few off-notes, the most serious involving Eugene's crippling obsession. It's not with drugs or alcohol or sex — it's with a certain brand of cheap, sugarless candy. I just wasn't convinced that this seemingly stable man could spin a relatively innocuous habit into a bizarre, destructive addiction. That aside, the sly tricks Rendell has up her sleeve counteract any faults. And the end of "Portobello" demonstrates the writer's deep interest in keeping her readers off balance.
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