Synopses & Reviews
Mix Cellini has just moved into a flat in a decaying house in Nottinghill, where he plans to pursue his two abiding passions supermodel Nerissa Nash, whom he worships from afar, and the life of serial killer Reggie Christie, hanged fifty years earlier for murdering at least eight women. Gwendolen Chawcer, Mix's eighty-year-old landlady, has few interests beside her old books and her new tenant. But she does have an intriguing connection to Christie. And when reality intrudes into Mix's life, he turns to Christie for inspiration and a long pent-up violence explodes. Intricately plotted and brilliantly written, Thirteen Steps Down enters the minds of these disparate people as they move inexorably toward its breathtaking conclusion.
"British veteran Rendell (The Rottweiler) delivers the best novel she's written in years, featuring elderly Gwendolen Chawcer and her younger tenant-in-the-attic, 'Mix' Cellini. The unlikely housemates share St. Blaise House, Chawcer's rotting London mansion, full of many generations of dead insects and past dreams of upper-middle-class glory. Both Chawcer and Cellini are looking for love in all the wrong places. Boozy, delusional Cellini who earns his keep fixing fitness equipment and is a 'fan' of real-life murderer Harold Christie obsesses about supermodel Nerissa Nash. He'll do anything to snag her attention and assume his 'rightful' place as her husband. The Miss Havisham-like Chawcer pines for Dr. Stephen Reeves, whom she last saw when he attended her dying mother in 1953. Cellini spins out of control first, killing a clingy, 'unworthy' date, then hiding her beneath the floorboards in his apartment. Rendell exhibits all her trademark virtues: vivid characters, a plot addictive as crack and a sense of place unequaled in crime fiction. Agent, Peter Matson at Sterling Lord Literistic." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Rendell...infuses her main character's schemes with so much atmosphere and even compassion that readers will find the tale achingly suspenseful and realistic." Booklist
"Masterful, as usual. No one does evil better." Kirkus Reviews
"The elements of surprise, combined with the richness of the story, make Thirteen Steps Down a riveting and seductive read." Denver Post
"[A] likable, solid novel by one of the greats, and although it may not be one of Rendell's masterworks, it's still likely to be one of the top crime novels of the year." Rocky Mountain News
"[F]lawed yet fascinating novel." Washington Post
"[T]rue to form, Rendell throws in several surprises at the story's end. Fans will clamor for this one; recommended." Library Journal
"Artfully constructed and masterfully executed, Thirteen Steps Down provides ample evidence why Ruth Rendell has gained an ardent fan base among such literary giants as Toni Morrison, Sue Grafton and Stephen King." San Diego Union-Tribune
"Thirteen Steps Down is filled with black comedy, ironies, deceptions and surprise, although sometimes what appears to be illusion (or delusion) turns out to be the real thing." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Rendell will keep readers glued to Thirteen Steps Down. For those who don't know her, it's a perfect introduction. For those who do, it's a welcome addition to her work." Detroit Free Press
From the multi-award-winning author of The Babes in the Wood and The Rottweiler, comes a chilling new novel about obsession, superstition, and violence. Mix Cellini's sharp-eyed landlady senses that his obsession with a model is taking a dark and dangerous turn.
From the multi-award-winning author of The Babes in the Wood and The Rottweiler, a chilling new novel about obsession, superstition, and violence, set in Rendell's darkly atmospheric London.
Mix Cellini (which he pronounces with an 'S' rather than a 'C') is superstitious about the number 13. In musty old St. Blaise House, where he is the lodger, there are thirteen steps down to the landing
below his rooms, which he keeps spick and span. His elderly landlady, Gwendolen Chawcer, was born in St. Blaise House, and lives her life almost exclusively through her library of books, so cannot see the decay and neglect around her.
The Notting Hill neighbourhood has changed radically over the last fifty years, and 10 Rillington Place, where the notorious John Christie committed a series of foul murders, has been torn down.
Mix is obsessed with the life of Christie and his small library is composed entirely of books on the subject. He has also developed a passion for a beautiful model who lives nearby -- a woman who would not look at him twice.
Both landlady and lodger inhabit weird worlds of their own. But when reality intrudes into Mix's life, a long pent-up violence explodes.
About the Author
Ruth Rendell has won numerous awards, including three Edgars, the highest accolade from Mystery Writers of America, and three Gold Daggers, one Silver Dagger, and a Diamond Dagger for outstanding contribution to the genre from England's prestigious Crime Writer's Association. She lives in London.
Reading Group Guide
1. During the course of the novel, Rendell shifts the narrative perspective between various characters, but the novel returns most frequently to the point of view of Mix Cellini. How does this focus affect your feelings toward Mix as a character? Do you find him sympathetic? Were there times when you found yourself rooting for him? How does Rendell use shifts of point of view to influence your feelings toward Mix and other characters?
2. To acquaintances Gwendolyn Chawcer may seem demanding and perhaps even pushy, but as readers we also catch glimpses of her as romantic, timid, and helpless, particularly when she recalls the past. How does the way she was treated as a young woman affect her personality as an adult? How do her recollections of Stephen Reeves and of Reggie Christie inform your sense of her character?
3. Do you think that Stephen Reeves was ever in love with Gwendolyn?
4. The cynical Madame Shoshana laughs at how easy it is to fool her clients with phony predictions. But despite her own lack of faith, the readings she gives to Nerissa and Mix seem to reflect the truth with eerie accuracy. How can we explain this accuracy? What do Mixs backaches at the end of the book reveal about Ruth Rendells thoughts on this subject? Are there any other predictions that are difficult or impossible to explain away?
5. What are your feelings about Nerissa Nash? Why is she so appealing to Mix? If a romance had been possible between them, do you think she would have fulfilled Mixs vision of her? How does she stack up to his ideal?
6. As their roles in the novel gain in importance, Queenie and Olive, whom Gwendolyn describes as silly and frivolous and Mix sees as meddlesome and bossy, are shown to have other sides to their characters. But until the end of the book, the reader almost always sees them through the biased eyes of Mix or Gwendolyn. What would you consider an unbiased description of their characters?
7. In the beginning of the novel, Mix seems to live in two separate worldsone driven by his obsessive interests, and the other tempered by qualities that allow him to hold a job and maintain friendships. Danilas visit to Mixs apartment shows how tragic the results can be when the two worlds meet. How aware do you think Mix is of his two worlds, and the barrier between them? Are both those worlds apparent to others?
8. What is it about Reggie Christie that appeals to Mix? How does his obsession with Reggie tie in to his own goals?
9. What do you make of the role of the seemingly supernatural residents of St. Blaise House: the ghost of Reggie and the creepy cat, Otto? What do they tell us about the role of perception versus reality in the book? How does each of the main characters react differently to them, and why?
10. How do you think Gwendolyn Chawcer would have been different as an older woman if she had married or begun a career? Why did she not attempt to do either after her fathers death?
11. When Mix asks Danila for a date, the action seems almost arbitrary. What makes him ask her outand what makes him continue his relationship with her? Is this just about sex, or is there more to the relationship for him?
12. When we are first introduced to Mixs flat, the author makes a point of his compulsive orderliness, which extends even to the placement of his drink in the refrigerator. However, Mix is able to shrug off the glasss misplacement when he arrives home. He also misses all evidence of Miss Chawcers intrusion into his apartmentincluding her cutting out a piece of his newspaper. What do you make of this inconsistency? Is his meticulousness falling by the wayside? If so, why?
13. If Mix had not been caught on his way to his sisters house, how far do you think his killing spree would have gone? We know he planned to take revenge on Javyare there any other characters you feel might have been in danger?