cover image Grasshopper


Barbara Vine. Harmony, $25 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-609-60789-3

Writing under her Vine pseudonym, Ruth Rendell offers another of her intriguing, multifaceted psychological suspense novels (The Chimney Sweeper's Boy and The Brimstone Wedding, etc.). The narrator here is Clodagh Brown, who, as a child growing up in Suffolk, loved climbing trees, then steeples and eventually pylons whose steel arms carried electricity across nearby fields. Resembling giant grasshoppers from a distance, close-up they embodied high-voltage, lethal danger; indeed, a teenage Clodagh survives a tragic accident involving a pylon and her first love, Daniel, before she leaves home at 19 for college in London. She finds classes boring, whereas walks through Victorian neighborhoods, with five-story row houses, decorative cornices and quaint chimneys, enchant her. Clodagh almost forgets the claustrophobic terrors she's suffered since childhood until she collapses in a pedestrian underpass and is rescued by an archetypal savior named Silver. On the top floor of his mostly absent parents' home, Silver provides a haven for a disparate group: exotic Wim, mentor to would-be roof climbers; Liv, who, after an accident, can't face descending to street level; and amoral Jonny, who interests Silver because he is ""a real life burglar."" Silver has a small trust fund, so he's free to cultivate ""the habit of happiness."" He and Clodagh fall in love, and both become intrepid midnight roof climbers. As youthful idealists, they determine to help a couple harassed by tabloids accusing them of kidnapping a child. Their ill-fated attempt leads to a terrifying climax. Although readers know that Clodagh, a beguiling heroine, has survived to become a successful electrical engineer, and is newly married, the story of her youthful adventures is enthralling, and the conundrums she faces in her life because of her love of heights make for an ingenious story told by a master of suspense. (Oct.)