Ruth Rendell has written so many novels that publishers have a job keeping them all in print, all readily available, and normally they fail dismally, meaning that only the most recent novels are available, and older, equally brilliant little gems, are only eclectically available to readers, and thus people frequently miss out on the author's entire marvellous cannon. The problem is that if even one novel by Rendell remains out of print, readers are missing a unique and unequalable reading experience. The Killing Doll is just such a case - an absolutely unique book among her body of work, yet it retains all the factors which conspire to make each novel brilliant. Psychology, irony, chill, skin-crawling reality, brilliant characters, brilliant plots and shocking twists, etc etc etc.
The Killing Doll is a relatively hard novel to pin down. Most of Rendell's novels outside the Wexford series tend to be. This one is, on the one hand, a book about the Faustian pact of young Peter Yearman who sells his soul to grow taller, and soon becomes drawn, along with his adoring older sister Dolly, into the world of the occult. However, as Peter grows up he turns away from the magick he once believed in, and goes out into the real world. Unfortunately, Dolly - shy and friendless, nervous of going outside of the house due to a large birthmark on her cheek - cannot separate herself from it - she still believes his seeming powers are genuine. As events conspire to tip her further over the edge - from very early on it is clear that isolated Dolly, who talks to her dead mother and comes to make dolls representative of those she hopes Peter's magic will harm, is a little Schizophrenic - the novel from then on dwells in the very dark places of madness, as all the characters move along happily with their dangerous delusions, until the final catastrophic chapters in which all the events are brought to a shattering climax.
I adore her books. I have a passion and thirst for them which will not be slaked, and I defy anyone to deny that she is not one of the best novelists writing today. Fine, I have no problem with people disliking her books (after all, some people of course won't like keeping company with strange, slightly warped characters who tang with a disturbing, uncomfortable reality) if they find the things they cover slightly disturbing, but anyone should at least be able to admit the incredible quality which lies at the core, whether they like the subject matter or not. It is quality that sings to me, sings to me of damaged people and twisted things, terrible worlds of Shakespearean irony (the tradition of the great Tragedy is alive and well in Rendell's novels) , and lives lived at risk from those around us who need just a subtle trigger to send them to madness. She is an insightful, clever and diabolically vicious writer who never shies away from showing us a different side of life, and The Killing Doll is another work of genius.