Arthur Johnson’s loneliness has perverted his desire for love and respect into a carefully controlled tendency for violence. One floor below him, a scholar finishing his thesis on psychopathic personalities is about to stumble upon one of Johnson’s many secrets.
This short book is fun and creepy, and, on two occasions when describing Arthur’s early violent outbursts, downright disturbing. It had a number of twists that surprised me (though one I saw coming) and came across as neatly well-planned. It doesn’t surpass my favorite Rendell so far (The Lake of Darkness), but it really is quite good.
Rendell’s style of writing is incisive and atmospheric, and she excels at the “show don’t tell” technique. The book alternates perspectives between Arthur Johnson and the scholarly new tenant (Anthony Johnson), and these sections show not only the character of each man but also their differing perceptions of the same events. Much of the action in the book occurs due to Arthur misconstruing what has happened, owing to his lack of social skills. Sometimes one almost feels sympathy for this dangerous yet clueless guy, knowing how the clumsy overtures he’s attempting are going to turn out.
I found the ending to be a surprising and satisfying one. However, as many compliments as I have for it (and for the narration of Julian Glover), I’m having trouble picturing myself rereading it. At least not for a long while, until I’ve forgotten all the twists and turns.