The Keys to the Street by Ruth Rendell

Mary Jago had donated her own bone marrow to save the life of someone she didn’t know. And this generous act led directly to the bitter break-up of her affair with Alistair.

But the man whose life she had saved would change Mary’s life in a way she never could have imagined.

The Keys to the Street creates an atmospherically charged universe, where a young woman’s life is in danger from both the middle-class world she knows and another world of the dispossessed and deranged.

I absolutely love most of Rendell’s ‘non-Wexford’ books. When people ask me what they are about I find it difficult to answer. A crime or murder usually lays the foundation of the plot, but rather than the narrative being focused only on that, like most crime novels, I prefer to describe them as a psychological insight into the ways in which the lives of seemingly unconnected people interleave.

Usually I find them very readable, but Keys to the Street was an exception. I’d say it’s my least favourite of the ones I have read (and I’ve read quite a few!). The story focuses on the lives of 4 main characters, although there are also some other major players.

Mary Jago is a quiet, sensitive young woman who has left her abusive ex-boyfriend and is house-sitting for a rich couple who are friends of her grandmother. She has donated bone marrow to a man suffering from leukaemia through a charity and is hoping to meet him.

Hob is a drug addict who lives in a run-down flat and suffers from ‘states’ if he is unable to get his hands on any drugs. He funds his addiction by being paid to ‘rough people up’ when asked to do so for others.

Pharaoh is a street dweller who stands apart from the rest. He is well educated, with an ‘Oxbridge accent’ and has chosen to live on the streets after a tragedy tore apart his life. He sits reading books in the park and attracts the attention of Mary who begins to say notice him and say hello as she passes.

Bean is an old man, who used to be a butler, and after his last master died, now walks dogs to supplement his pension. He is a self-centred, greedy character, constantly on the lookout for things he can use for blackmail to increase his weekly income.

Underpinning these four separate, but surprisingly connected stories are the murders of street people happening in the area by someone now as ‘The Impaler’. The books concludes with the revelation of the identity of this murderer, which is a sudden, unexpected and disappointing twist. Overall, I was underwhelmed and although the entwining of the different stories was clever, I wouldn’t recommend spending time it takes to read all 350 pages!

2/5

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