Ruth Rendell is a writer whose awards alone make any writer drool: Three Edgars from the Mystery Writers of America; three Gold Daggers, a Silver Dagger, and even a Diamond Dagger for outstanding contribution to the genre from England’s prestigious Crime Writers’ Association. Considered a national treasure, she’s a member of the House of Lords, and also happens to be a good friend of my idol, P. D. James. I’ve written before about her Chief Inspector Wexford series and her other stand-alones. This newest takes us inside the Portobello section of London, home to a street market since 1927. “Those who love and those who barely know it have called it the worlds’ finest street market” Rendell tells us in the opening as she describes its history. Remember the Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant movie “Notting Hill?” This is that neighborhood, in all its seedy glory.

The theme here is obssession. The thread of the story weaves through the lives of several people the reader will come to know intimately and psychologically.

A wealthy bachelor, art dealer Eugene Wren discovers an envelope on the street as he walks to his shop. Bulging with cash, Wren’s plan to find the rightful owner eventually has  extraordinary consequences. Struggling with a ridiculous addiction that shames him, Wren’s actions start a chain of events that link him with other people who struggle with their own obsessions. Wren’s fiance’, a lovely physician, struggles to take care of several patients whose oddities and obsessions intrigue and repel her at the same time. An unrepentant thief appears to get away with the theft of his career but is accused of a murder he didn’t commit. Religious fanatics appear as a subplot. The characters are convincing and highly original. On the other hand, we can identify with most of their oddities, something that makes Rendell a universal writer.

If you think these disparate themes cannot be brought together, you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Ruth Rendell. With her accessible prose, Rendell manages to make escalating madness appear clear and rational.

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