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The Rottweiler    by Ruth Rendell order for
by Ruth Rendell
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

The perpetrator is a serial strangler, who targets specific women (why he does so is a mystery). The killer collects a souvenir from each victim, and has been dubbed 'The Rottweiler' because of a coincidental bite mark on the first victim's neck. Inez Ferry owns an antique shop in Paddington, in the general vicinity of Lisson Grove, London, where the killings take place, and every so often one of the 'souvenirs' shows up in the shop's presentation cases. Who is it that unexpectedly drops off a watch, earrings, and a necklace? The fact that the bodies are found within reasonable distance of the antique shop, points to the possibility that a 'boarder' is the killer.

Inez converted the lofts above the shop into boarding rooms, to supplement her income after her husband's death. Inez occupies one loft. The other tenants are dapper Jeremy Quick, oft-wed Ludmila Gogol with her paramour Freddy, and fragile-minded, handsome Will Cobbett, whose mother died in a car accident. Will was brought up in a 'home', and is now cared for by his aunt, Becky Cobbett, who maintains her own residence, while balancing Will's visits with attempting to lead a romantic life (she loves the 'bottle' a little too much). Shop assistant Zeinab (a.k.a. Suzanne) is consistently late for work. She's engaged to marry two wealthy men - Morton Phibling and Rowley Woodhouse (neither knowing about the other) - and she resides with her male friend Algy, two children, and her mum Reem Sharif. Supporting cast members include contractor Keith and his sister Kim, blackmailers and a few thieves, drug addicts, and the jeweler, Mr. Khoury.

In a class of her own, Rendell expertly develops her characters, each with an intriguing mind and background. The point of view alternates between that of the killer and the daily life of each cast member. Rendell reveals the identity of the villain one-third into the story. With an alter-ego ('Alexander'), the perp has a dual personality and the reader shares his introspection, questioning why he does what he does, and why the urge to kill struck in his adult life. He is devoted to, and loves his mother, and has only fond memories of his deceased father. Rendell's exposure of the murderer's dark thoughts is exceptional - 'when he saw the next one, the one that absolutely had to be, he became in a flash nothing but an adrenaline-charged machine with one sole function ... They walked in a procession before his eyes, shadowy shapes ... In a sudden rage he slammed his fist down on the desk, making the laptop jump and the pens rattle in their jar.'

Although this well-written novel is slow-paced, the telling and the ending(s) of The Rottweiler are well worth the reader's patience.

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