Friday, September 11, 2009

Queen of Creepy? Not So Much.

Portobello by Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell has the reputation, deserved I might add, for being the creepiest of crime writers. Apart from her Inspector Wexford police procedural series, she specializes in psychological suspense. She does the same under a pseudonym, Barbara Vine, but the Vines tend to be less crime and suspense oriented. As Ruth Rendell she has written some very scary stories.

However, if you prefer your thrills on the mild side, I recommend Rendell's latest, Portobello. This atypical thriller gets off to a slow start, but persistence pays. Once I got into it, I couldn't put it down. The title refers to the Portobello Road in London, the colorful shopping bazaar around which the action is centered.

Four disparate main characters come together over the loss and retrieval of an envelope in the street containing over 100 pounds. Eugene Wren, a slightly effete middle-aged art dealer, finds the money, and posts an ad to alert the owner. The ad attracts Lance, a pathetic young slacker, who hopes to con Eugene out of the money while at the same time casing his house for robbery. The real owner of the cash turns out to be Joel Roseman, a disturbed loner who becomes the patient of Eugene's girlfriend, Ella, a GP. The interactions of these four with each other and with additional eccentrics in the cast of characters makes a compelling read.

While limiting the violence (there is some), Rendell manages to create a sense of impending explosion. The ending ties up all the loose ends in a satisfying way. All in all, a good read.