Author: Ruth Rendell
Mild-mannered Arthur Johnson has never known how to talk to women. And his loneliness has perverted his desire for love and respect into a carefully controlled penchant for violence. One floor below him, a scholar finishing his thesis on psychopathic personalities is about to stumble--quite literally--upon one of Arthur's many secrets.
This is the first book I've read by Ruth Rendell, but it will not be the last. I cannot stress enough her amazing ability to create the character, Arthur Johnson: snob, longest living tenant at 142 Trinity, borderline racist, psychopath and Kenbourne strangler, and Anthony Johnson: young scholar, newest tenant at 142 Trinity, involved with a married woman, writing a thesis on psychopaths. Readers will view the movements of all the eclectic tenants of 142 Trinity from the perspective of either of the two Johnsons. There are quite a few side characters and side stories that make the book interesting and believable, i.e. Li-Li Chan, Anthony's artificial infatuation with Linthea, and the affair between Vesta and Jonathan Dean. However, it is the conflict between the two Johnsons that is remarkable. I think this can be attributed to the fact that the "conflict" is imagined solely by Arthur Johnson, after an event relating to a particular "white woman". Once again, Rendell's ability to describe the characters and their actions or thoughts is a cut above. I have to share a few examples.
The woman in the cellar:
Anthony Johnson's analysis:He didn't speak. He had never known how to talk to women. There was only one thing he had ever been able to do to women and advancing now, smiling, he did it. First he rested the torch on a brick ledge at the level if his knees so that she was in shadow, so that the room took on the aspect of an alley into which a street lamp filters dimly. Then he approached her paralyzed as she was, and meeting no resistance--he would have preferred resistance--he closed his hands on her throat (2)
A flashback:The man obviously had an acute anxiety neurosis. A better-adjusted person would simply have scribbled 'Sorry I opened your letter' and left it at that. The circumlocutions the polysyllabic words were pathetic, They breathed a tense need for the preservation of an immaculate ego, they smelt of paranoia, fear of retribution, a desire to be thought well of by all men, even strangers. But men like that cannot be reassured, their deep-seated belief in their own worthlessness is too great and too long-established at fifty for self-confidence ever to be implanted in them (44)
Fantastic.Once she was out of the house, he had gone and stood over the baby, scrutinizing it with curious desire. It was about six months old, fat, fast asleep...A napkin, white and fleecy, secured with a large safety pin, was now visible above its legging. Safety was a strange word to apply to so obviously dangerous a weapon. Arthur removed the pin, and taut now with joy and power, thrust it up to its curled hilt into the baby's stomach. The baby woke with a shattering scream and a great bubble of scarlet blood welled out as he removed the pin (71)
A Demon In my View