Ruth Rendell here again visits London, the place she is so able to render darkly atmospheric and menacing. There is a serial killer on the loose, and he has been dubbed "The Rottweiler" by the media, due to a bite mark found on the first victims neck, even though that bite mark was later traced back to her boyfriend. His only signature is that he takes one of each victims' personal items - perhaps a watch, or necklace - after having garrotted them.
The latest victim is found near Inez Ferry's antique shop, and because of this the lives of a small group of disparate people will become drawn into this case and it's increasingly introverted investigation. For the police are becoming more and more convinced that someone connected to the shop - anyone from the exotic assistant Zeinab, who is stringing along a variety of rich men, to one of the tenants in the flats above - could very well be a homicidal maniac...
This is everything that I expect a Ruth Rendell novel to be. It is, of course, impeccably written and psychologically excellent, so I need say no more about that. Indeed, The Rottweiler is another of Rendell's books that is entirely unique, in that for almost the first time ever she displays a delicious dark humour, veins of which run through the plot like black treacle. At times, this seems like a social satire, as she directs her gaze onto everything from the media to the often bizarre relationships between men and women. Her characters are also particularly noteworthy, especially the compelling Inez and Will, who is possibly the most moving character she has ever depicted, who takes a perverse, almost unregistered, pleasure from pushing away all prospective suitors for his beloved Aunt Rebecca, who desperately doesn't want to spend the rest of her life caring for her "simple" nephew, though is racked with guilt because of that.
You would easily be forgiven for thinking that this is a serial killer novel, but this is really no more a serial killer novel than the Bible is a book solely about God. It is so much more than that. It's a book about the people involved, how they can be draw into darkness and uncertainty through the effects of the gravity of crime. It's a book about how peoples live always changed when confronted with the horrific. At times, the serial killings themselves seem very on the periphery (I was going to say "incidental" that that would be entirely the wrong word) and it is eerie to read about them in such a detached way. It's also interesting how we, essentially, only know as much about the murders as the characters themselves do through their exposure to the media.
To be honest, it's almost impossible to review a Ruth Rendell book and truly convince of her genius and say what you really want to without illustrating it by disclosing important aspects of the plot or simply re-telling little aspects of the story, which makes the task I have very hard. But, rest assured, this book of a contemporary and chilling London and a small group of people within it is brilliant. It's a novel that questions, among many things, the nature of morality, how we perceive others and ourselves, it examines ideas of the human need for companionship, and the different forms of love between men and women, and it tackles, as many of her books do on some level, the problem of "How eccentric or odd do you have to be before you become a danger to others, or even yourself?" And yet, it is really about none of those things. Those are just tiny stitches in her tapestry, small but illuminating strokes on her canvas. It's about people, and the spider-web of life that connects everything to everything else. And I consider it to be brilliance in its purest form. The only way to understand this is to read one of her works, because there is no one else today writing books quite like this. She's our modern Scheherazade. I just want her to keep telling stories all night long.