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Talking To Strange Men

Ruth Rendell''s novels (whether writing as Ruth Rendell or as
Barbara Vine) are rather variable in quality. Talking to Strange Men
ranks with Asta''s Book as one of my favorites. Though it has some
mystery elements, it is more a psychological novel than a detective story, with
obsession in various forms as a theme: the sexual obsessions of adults; the
obsession children bring to their games; even the oddity of a man obsessed with
a pet myna bird.

There are two strands to the plot: in one rival groups of school children
are playing an involved game of espionage; in the other an abandoned husband is
struggling to rebuild his life. When the two intersect ? when one of the adults
starts modifying the childrens'' secret messages ? things come to a climax for
two of the characters. Though this may sound a bit fanciful, the plot is
actually quite credible and the psychological portrayal of the central
characters is completely convincing. As a result Talking to Strange Men
is free from the feeling of contrivance that spoils some of Rendell''s novels.


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