King Solomon's Carpet is a prize-winning crime classic from bestselling author Barbara Vine
Winner of the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger Award
'The tension grows ... an overwhelming sense of foreboding ... when the unravelling takes place, it is brilliantly unexpected and original' The Times
Jarvis Stringer lives in a crumbling schoolhouse overlooking a tube line, compiling his obsessive, secret history of London's Underground. His presence and his strange house draw a band of misfits into his orbit: young Alice, who has run away from her husband and baby; Tom, the busker who rescues her; truant Jasper who gets his kicks on the tube; and mysterious Axel, whose dark secret later casts a shadow over all of their lives.
Dispossessed and outcast, those who come to inhabit Jarvis's schoolhouse are gradually brought closer together in violent and unforeseen ways by London's forbidding and dangerous Underground . . .
I’m fairly sure I read something from Ruth Rendell back in my schooldays, so long ago in fact it probably doesn’t count even if I could recall what is was, which I can’t. King Solomon’s Carpet then is my first real taste of her writing.
Although this one won the Gold Dagger back in 1991, there probably isn’t an awful lot of crime within the pages. It’s more a novel of individual characters, including three generations of the one family, crossing paths with others against the backdrop of the London Underground and a former schoolhouse, which now serves as lodgings for some of the cast.
Interspersed in the narrative are facts regarding the Underground, its history and evolution and expansion, from its conception as one man’s idea - Charles Pearson, a Victorian visionary – “A poor man is chained to the spot. He has not the leisure to walk and he has not money to ride a distance to his work.”
I really liked this book, mainly for the characters and the development of the relationships between the main players, as well as the Underground history lesson.
A grandmother – Cecilia, affluent and a bit judgemental,
A daughter – Tina, carefree with a somewhat feckless attitude to life, easy come, easy go, easy with the men she crosses paths with,
Tina’s two children, one boy one girl;
The girl – Bienvida perceptive to her grandmother’s moods and considerate in her responses regarding her mother, both knowing what lies, both little white ones and those by omission are being told.
The boy – Jasper adventurous, a regular truant and addicted to the thrills of sledging on the London Underground. (Sledging – the art of riding on a tube train’s roof between stations. I’m curious to know if this is or was an actual phenomenon, and a childhood initiation rite, or if it is in fact something the author dreamt up? The only real references to it that I can find, send me back to this book!) Jasper’s a free spirit like his mother, a pre-teen with a tattoo!
Other significant characters;
Alice – a wife and mother who abandons her husband and young infant daughter to follow her dream of playing the violin.
Tom - a busker, slightly damaged and with an adjusted personality after a car accident.
Jarvis Stringer – landlord and fervent Underground enthusiast. He is to trains, what Jeremy Clarkson is to cars (albeit without the right-wing rhetoric and polemic utterings).
Axel Jonas – a bit of a mystery man, charming when he wants to be, aloof, indifferent, sometimes cruel – not a man to be trusted.
The connections and evolving relationships drive the narrative, though we do have a man with a plan that delivers a fairly explosive climax.
4 from 5
Very enjoyable, definitely I want to read more from Ruth Rendell, both writing as Ruth (but probably not Inspector Wexford) and as Barbara Vine.
Read in January, 2017
Published – 1991
Page count – 358
Source – owned copy
Format – second hand paperback.