Part 1

You will read a review of the novel The Rottweiler by British author Ruth Rendell. For each question 1-5, choose the best answer A, B, C or D.


Ruth Rendell here returns to London, the place she is so able to render darkly atmospheric and menacing. Roaming the city streets is a serial killer, dubbed The Rottweiler by the media due to a bite mark found on the first victim's neck, though that mark was later traced back to her boyfriend. The killer’s only signature, kept in secret by the police, is to take one of each victim's 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 its 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 the killer.

This is everything you can expect a Ruth Rendell novel to be. And more. It is, of course, impeccably written and psychologically excellent, but it is also a Rendell novel that is entirely unique, in that for almost the first time ever she displays an overt, delicious dark humour, veins of which run through the plot like black treacle. At times, this seems like a social satire, as she mocks her characters – a couple of which are exaggerated to strange, slightly unnatural but amusing effect – and directs her gaze onto everything from the media to the often bizarre relationships between men and women.

Her characters are also particularly noteworthy, especially Inez, who relieves her grief by watching incessant re-runs of her late actor husband's TV shows; and slightly-autistic Will, who is possibly the most moving character she has ever depicted: he takes a perverse, almost unregistered innocent pleasure from pushing away all prospective suitors for his beloved Aunt Rebecca, who herself desperately doesn't want to spend the rest of her life caring for her dependent nephew, though is racked with guilt because of that.

The Rottweiler is a slightly different exercise than anything Rendell has given us before, not just for the occasional spikes of satire, but for what she does with the characters. She tries to do something different, and thus this is a rather odd novel among her oeuvre. It is a kind of collective novel, where no character's story is more important than any other. She doesn't just give us a character, or characters, we get a community and all that lies behind it.

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 much more than that – and there's no blood in sight. It is a book about the society required to breed killers; a book about the desires inherent within those killers, and why. It's a book about the people involved, how they can be drawn into darkness and uncertainty through the effects of the gravity of crime. It's a book about how people’s lives always change when confronted with the horrific.

At times, the serial killings themselves seem very much on the periphery – I was going to say "incidental" but that would be entirely the wrong word – slightly amorphous, 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. Oh, yes, and while the ending doesn't have quite the shock factor of some of Rendell's work, it does have a fascinating psychological "incident," a nervy and very uncomfortable shift in the course of events.

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 of the reviewer very hard. But rest assured this book of a contemporary and chilling London and a small group of people within it is great.

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 question 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 thought-provoking canvas. It's about people, and the spider-web of life that connects everything to everything else.