Talking To Strange Men Paperback – Feb 27 1994
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From School Library Journal
YA Another compelling novel of psychological suspense from Rendell. The characters, a group of teenage boys playing espionage games and a lonely man facing his wife's desertion, are introduced through a first-person narrative which at first barely allows readers to understand how they relate to each other. Slowly the characters' lives become intertwined through the discovery of secret messages and unsolved codes. The suspense builds as readers realize that the misconceptions that each character holds can lead to disaster and that the teenage espionage games actually deal with a man's life. A wonderful novel that will intrigue young adult readers. Susan Penny, Houston Public Library
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Library Journal
Ian and Mungo Cameron, Charles Mabledene, and Graham O'Neill are pecocious London schoolboys who enjoy a sophisticated game of devising, exchanging, and translating coded messages. Conventionally middle-class John Creevey becomes obsessed with intercepting and deciphering these messages even as he plots revenge on his estranged wife, Jennifer, and her lover, Peter Moran, an intellectual ne'er-do-well pederast. An intriguing subplot deals with the long-unsolved murder of John's sister, Cherry. Prolific novelist Rendell has brilliantly interwoven these compelling strands into one masterful tale of suspense. Ronald L. Coombs, SUNY Downstate Medical Ctr. Lib., Brooklyn, N.Y.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Unbeknownst to him, John has stumbled upon some teenagers' spy-game, played out between two rival "centres" based in the city. They play amateurish espionage games, trying always to get one-up on one another, and leave coded messages detailing latest orders and objectives. Recently separated from his wife, John is lonely and slightly depressed, and becomes obsessed with these strange messages. Sometimes, he dedicates whole days to cracking the codes, and eventually these strange messages drag John and those around him down into a tangle of revenge and murder.
This is classic Rendell, which is of course to say that it is crime writing that does not get any better. The mundane details of everyday life ground the plot firmly in a hard reality, but the originality and hints of surrealism cast it into darkness and make it sparkle with something very special indeed. The characters are drawn with brilliant insight - the children playing their inconsequential power-games are brilliant generic creations, and John, obsessing over the codes and messages as they rush to fill the void in his life. Of course, the twin plotlines merge in the end as only a Rendellian plot can, in an understated cataclysm of unexpected brutality. She spins her web with care and tenderness, and then inevitably it traps its victim, horrifically.
In many ways, of course Talking to Strange Men is trademark Rendell. It contains everything we expect, but of course it is also unique in its originality. That she has written over 50 books now and has yet to repeat herself and continues to be original is a truly stunning achievement. Most authors become stale after about ten books. It is testament to Rendell's huge talent that she has not fallen foul of this - she has always refused to stick within boundaries of any kind, and the genre is far richer for her.
This book, also a clever homage to the espionage genre, is another superb achievement from the author. A twisted, strange, compelling piece of brilliance.
Mungo Cameron takes over his brother's role as head of London Central, one of two rival teenage spy networks who occupy themselves by secretly influencing various events in their world and communicating their plots in coded notes left in drops around London. Another, Charles Mabledene, is originally part of the rival network Moscow Central, headquartered in the private school Utting, but when Charles makes contact and asks to come over to London Central, the issue of trust arises and Charles' loyalty to London Central and his new public school Rossingham must be tested. Thus arises the perceived necessity of his talking to strange (possibly dangerous) men.
There is more than one strange grown man in this book (and a few odd women!). One is Mungo's dad, a chronic but endearing worrier who manages to overlook most things that he really should be worrying about. Another is John Creevey, proprietor of a garden centre, no longer the 34-year-old virgin that he was when he married, but still cuckolded by his wife Jennifer who has moved in with her lover Peter Moran. John's sister Cherry's earlier murder haunts him, as does her obsessive fiancée Mark, who befriends John after Cherry's death and shares secrets that John would prefer not to know.
One villain is predictably repulsive. Another surprises you with his depth and complexity, as does John Creevey, who is well on his way to being an attractive and healthy person by the end of the book. Mungo, like his brother, grows out of his preoccupation with spycraft and moves on to real life. The worst villainy is left for us to imagine, as Charles contemplates his future...
In this case, a fragile man sees what he thinks is a covert communications between secret agents. The events he sets into motion are like a demented cukoo clock, a machine-like collision of people, each with their own agendas and confusions, culminating in an act which, to each participant, seems to mean something else.
Rendell is brilliant at not giving us frightening humans; instead, she reminds us how frightening it is to be human.