All the Time in the World

My taste in reading material is wide and varied: SF/fantasy/"speculative fiction", mysteries (police procedurals, mostly), history, fanfic, straight fiction, smutty vampire books, biographies, poetry, cereal boxes, assembly instructions, the fine print, and your mind.

The Keys to the Street

The Keys to the Street - Ruth Rendell This was, at the original time of my review, the blurb given for The Keys to the Street here on GoodReads:

For the snobbish, upper-crust that live around London's Regent's Park, the homeless are an eye-sore and a nuisance. Only Mary Jargo, a meek, sensitive young woman who has recently moved into the neighborhood to house-sit shows compassion. She often shares food and conversation with the unfortunates, particularly Effie, Dill, Roman, and Pharaoh. When someone starts murdering members of Regent's homeless community and lancing them on the spiked fencing that encloses the park, only Mary seems to notice or care. Through her quest to discover the murderer, she embarks on a journey to overcome what she perceives to be her own insecurities and passivity.

Really? That's not the book I read, and anyone who relied on that I'm sure discovered the disconnect for themselves. None of it is wholly inaccurate - the book deals with a series of murders of homeless people around Regent's Park, and one of the characters is a mild-mannered young woman who does show some interest in and kindness toward them as she encounters them in the community. But "her quest to discover the murderer" doesn't exist. At no point does Mary Jago (not Jargo) turn into an amateur sleuth to find the murderer. She is only marginally concerned with the crimes (until she is called on to identify one of the bodies) and beyond a reasonable expression of distress over anyone's death, and a certain amount of disquiet at the murders happening near her home, they're only background information - she isn't haunted by them and doesn't display any real fear of becoming a victim, and she certainly doesn't spend enough time thinking about them to discover who's committing them.

Moreover, Mary is only one of several major characters: hers is not the only story being told. There are four characters on whom the book focuses, although Mary's is by far the primary storyline. There's also Roman, a man who is homeless by choice after the deaths of his entire family in a car accident; Bean, a peevish dog-walker with a superiority complex; and Hob, a drug-addicted and mentally slow yobbo who's constantly looking to make some easy money providing services as a frightener/hired muscle, so he can get his next fix.

Once again, I wish I could give this 3.5 stars - I can appreciate Rendell's skill in this thoughtful, well-crafted narrative, but it was an odd read. More than a traditional whodunnit, The Keys to the Street is a morality tale about the ways in which people prey on each other and put their own needs above those of others: the wealthy residents of the neighborhood who overlook the "dossers" that eke out a limited existence on the margins of normal society, even when someone starts killing them; the dealers and other criminals who put Hob onto his next assault-for-hire, knowing he's unstable; Mary's ex-fiance, whose controlling behavior caused her to break off their engagement, and who tries to bully his way back into her life when she inherits a considerable amount of money; even Bean, whose low-level dog-walking job provides him occasion to pick up bits of sensitive information useful for extorting extra money and choice personal references with which to expand his clientele.

The murders are solved, but almost as an afterthought. If you're looking for guilty parties confessing on the witness stand, or forensic fireworks that uncover key evidence, this is not that kind of book.