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[760] The Killing Doll – Ruth Rendell


” Why not? You made holy water, you said the words, you stabbed the doll with your dagger and she died. Half an hour later she was dead. You stab the doll in the stomach and it was that part of her killed her. (Ch.13, p.123)

Didn’t know what to expect of The Killing Doll, but the title just appealed—as a kid I was spooked out by the batting eye lids and pearly gaze of a doll. This earlier Rendell is a psychological suspense with two separate story-lines that will eventually overlap with fatal outcomes. Far from fashionable, Manningrove Tree is a town on an abandoned rail line. The principal plot concerns the household of Harold Yearman, whose wife has just died and leaving behind a strange, devoted pair of siblings. Dolly, in her 20s, a withdrawn innocent, is psychically scarred by a large purple facial birthmark. Her teenage brother, pup, short and insecure, becomes bookishly obsessed with geomancy and withcraft, conducting rituals and casting spells in his mini-temple upstairs.

Dolly over time has turned an alcoholic. She is convinced of her brother’s power, which has cajoled his height and brought in Harold’s business success. Dolly, who is extremely possessive of her brother, is also becoming very jealous of him. When Harold marries the young, vulgar Myra, Dolly persuades Pup to cast a spell on this evil stepmother (who makes overt allusion to her facial birthmark)—who does indeed die promptly. Was it really witchcraft or just a botched attempt at abortion? Myra’s death nonetheless reaffirms Dolly’s faith in Pup’s powers. But it’s obvious Dolly is plunging downward spiral into insanity.

Craving a friendship with the elegant Yvonne, Dolly tries to intercede Yvonne’s husband’s homosexual affair with yet another spell. But she is irrevocably on the path to non-magical murder. This is how the secondary plot kicks in and involves Dolly. The book is not flawless, especially the seemingly incomplete secondary plot. But overall the book is redolent of a genuine, haunting creepiness and an achingly pathetic irony in the central portrait.

237 pp. Arrow Books. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

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