The Keys To The Street, by Ruth Rendell

>> Wednesday, March 17, 2010

TITLE: The Keys To The Street
AUTHOR: Ruth Rendell

PAGES: 376
PUBLISHER: Dell Mystery

SETTING: Contemporary London
TYPE: Mystery / Fiction

REASON FOR READING: Random pick from the old TBR, I just felt like a mystery.

Each of the murdered men was found impaled on the spiked fence around Regent's Park. Except for one, all were street people - like Pharaoh the Key Men - whose real identities had vanished with their descent into the city's underside. The bodies were found near the museum where Mary Jago worked and the mansion where she house-sat during the owners' absence. But quiet, pretty Mary could never have suspected that the threads connecting the dead would soon become tangled around her own simple, ordinary life.

Now the abusive relationship Mary Jago recently left, the mysterious man she was about to love, the inheritance suddenly thrust into her hands, and the dog walker who sas something he shouldn't were opening a Pandora's box into Mary's comfortable world. And the lies, sins, and violent acts that spilled out would be entirely unexpected, chilling to the bone… and suddenly, shockingly deadly.
The Keys To the Street is marked as mystery on the spine, but I think I'd characterise it as plain fiction. Oh there is the mystery of who's killing homeless men living on the streets of London and impaling on the rails around Regent's Park, but the book is not about that. It's about the characters, about Mary Jago, finally leaving an abusive relationship and seemingly finding her soulmate in a man she donated bone marrow to, about Roman Ashton, living on the streets after tragedy in his comfortable middle class life and about Bean, the dog walker. It's about the many ways they all connect and how each's actions affect the other.

Rendell is brilliant at fleshing out her characters fully. I might not like many of them, but they always ring true, and I always end up understanding it. Mary, for instance, is an unlikely heroine. I felt impatient with her at times for not standing up for herself, but couldn't help but enjoy reading about her, mainly because this is a very self-aware character. Mary knows she's a bit of a victim, and slowly but surely, she gets over it, and I cheered for her triumph. She doesn't get a perfectly happy ending, but a hopeful one that's more to do with her personal growth than with any external circumstances.

My favourite character, however, was Roman. He was the one I cared most about and really, really wanted to be well at the end. I also thought the role he played in the narrative was very well done. He provides the very interesting point of view of an insider in the dossers' world but with an outsider's clarity of view.

Much as I enjoyed the characters, the very best thing about TKTTS was its ending. The solution to the mystery was breathtakingly perfect. A real "a-ha, now I understand!" moment. And best of all, Rendell trusts her readers and doesn't give unnecessary explanations about the implications of the perfectly chosen few little words with which she wraps everything up. If you've been paying attention, you'll know exactly who this is and why they did it. If not, well, if not, you're screwed.

Finally, a word about the setting. Rendell clearly knows the streets around Regent's Park like the palm of her hand, and the area comes alive under her hand. I'm not that familiar with the area (beyond getting off my train at Euston every couple of weeks and having once stayed in a hotel near Regent's Park tube station), but I think I could pretty much recognise it and walk around easily after reading this! I should try it the next time I'm in London!



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