The Killing Doll by Ruth Rendell

The Killing Doll by Ruth Rendell

Pantheon, 1984

Source: I bought this book.

While my local library has reopened in a limited capacity, I am still plugging away at my project to clear my bookshelves. I picked this Rendell because of the creepy cover, and because I figured a book from the 80s would have a different feel than a contemporary crime or psychological suspense novel. The Killing Doll delivers: it’s sinister, it’s heartbreaking, and it surprised me along the way.

The story centers on the Yearman family: older sister Dolly idolizes her younger brother Pup, who takes up magic (but he loves to call it geomancy). The siblings and their widower father are all grieving and wounded in their own ways: Dolly is psychologically debilitated by the port-wine birthmark on her face and her mother’s death; Pup is still a teenager when his mother dies and while adrift turns to the occult for some sort of organizing principle in his life; and their father Harold runs a typewriter store by day and devours historical fiction in all of his spare time. The B story deals with a loner who lives in the Yearman’s neighborhood, and he has his own host of psychological issues. He’s also an orphan.

The book is mostly Dolly’s story: her obsessions, her phobias, and her plans for her brother the magician. Rendell renders her agoraphobia and fears very keenly, and while I was dismayed throughout the book, I couldn’t turn away. It’s been five years nearly to the day that I last read Rendell (one joy of blogging is I can verify these things), and I, again, highly recommend her.

2 thoughts on “The Killing Doll by Ruth Rendell

  1. Rendell was always so good at conveying that sort of psychological uneasiness, I think. And I do like the way her stories had a focus on social and family dynamics, and how dark and unsettling (even tragic) they can be. I’m glad you found this one to be a good read, Rebecca.

  2. I usually avoid any Ruth Rendell books that are not part of the Wexford series, due to the level of discomfort I feel when reading them. I might give this one a try someday, it doesn’t sound too bad.

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