The Keys to the Street by Ruth Rendell: A-

From the back cover:
When Mary Jago donates her bone marrow to help a complete stranger, the act bonds her with the young man who lives from her transfusion. He will change Mary’s life in ways she could never imagine.

But every act has consequences, often unforseen. Mary’s generosity returns her not only love, but also its opposite. She finds herself in danger from both the middle class world she belongs to and the world of the dispossessed and deranged.

The Keys to the Street follows several different characters. In addition to Mary Jago, there’s Roman (a middle-aged man who became a vagrant as a way to deal with personal tragedy), Bean (a spry, elderly dog-walker with an eye for opportunities to blackmail his clients), and Hob (a young drug addict who beats people up for cash). Each is interesting and complex in their own right (though Mary is annoyingly weak in dealing with her overbearing ex), and Rendell skillfully and gradually weaves their lives together in an intricate way.

Several homeless people have been killed in the London park that all these characters frequent, and information concerning the deaths and subsequent investigation is parcelled out as each person becomes aware of it. The mystery is never actually the driving focus of the story. There are also subplots concerning Mary’s budding relationship with the man who received her bone marrow and Roman’s gradual realization that he’s ready to rejoin the “respectable” world.

Rendell does a great job with all the characters and tidily wraps up all the plot threads in the novel’s conclusion. My very favorite thing, however, is how she gives readers all the clues they need to put things together for themselves. Rather than spell out the significance of a particular cardigan or a funeral, for example, she allows readers to work out the meaning on their own. I spent a while wondering what the deal was with Mary’s new fella, and it was while I was standing at the sink peeling potatoes that I realized that I had all the information I needed already.

Also, this is the kind of book one keeps thinking about even while peeling potatoes.

The Keys to the Street was a recommendation from Margaret, to whom I am grateful. She mentioned two other books by Rendell that are particular favorites, and I shall be reading those in the near future.

Note: Quite a lot of detail is given on the environs of London’s Regent’s Park and I found it helpful to consult a map. I’ve included the link here for any who might be interested.

Did you enjoy this article? Consider supporting us.


  1. I’m glad you liked it! I just mooched a copy so that I could reread it, since I got it from the library originally, several years ago.

    I really should get more Rendell, but I think I’d better work through my big pile of Barbara Vines first.

  2. So far, I’ve only read the one by Vine, so I’m looking forward to your impressions of them.

    This was a library copy, too, as is Crocodile Bird, but I wound up purchasing a used copy of Going Wrong. I’ve got so little free shelf space, the library is always my first recourse, even if I think I’d like to own something.

Speak Your Mind