Wednesday, January 27, 2010

13 Steps Down by Ruth Rendell

Protagonist: Mix Cellini
Setting: Notting Hill, London
Rating: 4.8
In this psychological thriller, Rendell gives us Mix Cellini, a troubled young man who is obsessed with a beautiful model, Nerissa Nash, to the point of becoming a stalker. He's also obsessed with Reginald Christie, a serial killer from the 1940s and '50s. He reads all he can about the notorious doctor and, one late night, even believes he sees Christie's ghost outside his flat. Cellini is also deeply superstitious, especially when it comes to the number 13, which also happens to be the number of steps leading to his flat, the attic room of an old ramshackle Victorian. Cellini's landlady, Gwendolen Chawcer, is an elderly spinster who spends her days and nights immersed in books and who has her own obsession, a doctor she once had a "relationship" with -- even if it was 50 years ago and the relationship didn't extend beyond tea and cakes at her house. Then there is the beautiful Nerissa, who has fallen in love with her family's neighbor, a young man she doesn't even know that well and who doesn't seem to notice her. As the novel progresses, Cellini becomes even more and more unhinged. As a reader, you know it'll all end badly -- but we don't know how or why. It's a story that unwinds slowly, continuing to surprise us, even on the last page.

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