THE TREE OF HANDS by Ruth Rendell
Kirkus Star


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Several of the favorite Rendell themes--madness, suffocating family ties, real estate, ironically overlapping crimes--come together in this firmly intriguing (if ultimately half-satisfying) anatomy of a child-kidnapping. In a posh part of London, unwed mother Benet Archdale, a youngish bestselling novelist, is grieving over the recent death of her four-year-old son--while receiving a trying visit from her mother Mopsa, a genteel madwoman (supposedly now cured). Meanwhile, in a dreary blue-collar London neighborhood, barmaid Carol Stratford, a tough young widow with three kids, is being sweetly doted upon by her very young live-in boyfriend Barry--who doesn't quite realize that Carol is a child-beater (and a tramp). The connection between the two stories? Crazy mum Mopsa, though herself utterly unaffected by her grandson's death, casually kidnaps Carol's wee son Jason and brings him home as a consoling stand-in for Benet--who is first unaware, then horrified (and uncharmed by dopey Jason), then intent on returning the boy. . . but eventually drawn to the notion of giving Jason (an obviously abused child) a permanent new home and mother. Still: won't the police track Jason to Mopsa (who has by now been shipped back to her Spain retirement-home) or to Benet? No, not at all: their prime suspect is poor innocent Barry--who himself wrongly suspects Carol's ex-lover Terry Wand, a sleazy gigolo in the midst of an audacious real-estate scam. And all these strands--plus Carol's promiscuity and a blackmail-attempt by Benet's ex-lover--will become a wry criss-cross towards the end, with two deaths, two fugitive-flights, and several arrests packed into the last few pages. True, this finale doesn't work nearly as well as some other Rendell windups: a minor, indistinct character plays far too important a role. Elsewhere, too, Rendell displays her slightly excessive fondness for contrivance and coincidence. But much of this warm yet chilling tale offers Rendell at her very best: the crisply textured characters, the modern-London atmosphere, the finely controlled mixture of creepiness and pathos--and the nearly-unrivaled gift for plain, beguiling storytelling.
Pub Date: March 6th, 1984
ISBN: 0345312007
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1984


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