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The Killing Doll

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  1,055 ratings  ·  79 reviews
The winter before he was sixteen, amateur magician Pup made a Faustian pact and sold his soul to the devil. He wasn't quite sure what he was going to get in exchange.

Pup's older sister, Dolly, is manically obsessed with her birthmark, believing it is responsible for her status as a social outcast. She becomes pathologically transfixed by Pup's dabbling in magic, desperate
ebook, 272 pages
Published January 26th 2010 by Cornerstone Digital (first published 1984)
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Average rating 3.64  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,055 ratings  ·  79 reviews

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Dec 25, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting to find so much dislike for this novel here, and for the very reasons so many Ruth Rendell fans LOVE her books!!! I first read it in the late 1980s, during my early days as a Rendell reader, and have returned to it several times - my current 'read' is probably the fourth time around. Along with THE BRIDESMAID and MAKE DEATH LOVE ME, I find it to be one of her strongest and most compelling novels of psychological suspense, and like them, yes, it's one of her darkest. It's also one of ...more
Lisa H.
Aug 25, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who doesn't already think the real world is appalling enough as it is
Shelves: general-fiction
About 150 pages in, I thought, Where in the hell is this going? About 3/4 of the way through, things started to coalesce. By the time I was done, I was just... bored. I realize that all around me people are living tiny, dull, sometimes repulsive lives, but I don't understand Ms. Rendell's decision to populate this book with some of the most unpleasant people I've ever "met" in the pages of a book.

Peter ("Pup") and Doreen ("Dolly") live with their parents in what was their grandparents' home, a
Adam Nevill
Nov 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Only the second Ruth Rendell I have read and it was compelling. In fact, I was reminded of early Ian McKewan. Really insightful writing about a large cast of misfits and outsiders in London, with a curious atmosphere of the erotic, supernormal and occult magic. The spiritualist meetings were delightfully weird and grotesquely memorable.
Claire (Clairby11xxx)

"I kill, therefore I am."

This is one of those books I feel I shouldn't give too much away about, suffice to say it is about a teenage boy who sells his soul to the devil and how that decision affects his sister's life. When I say devil I do not mean a literal character, this is not a fantasy, rather a suspenseful study of the occult and mental illness, touching on alcoholism and with a bit of murder thrown in for good measure. Sounds cheery doesn't it?

I honestly had no idea where this was
Ronald Wise
Jul 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A chronology of the development of psychosis in two London outcasts, whose destinies intermingle without them ever meeting. Also an examination of the pursuit of power through the occult, and especially black magic. The Book-of-the-Month Club selected this book for me in 1984 and I read it the first time in the late 1980s. I was once again stunned by how it ends.
Apr 16, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Whatever you do...don't read this book. There isn't one character that is likable. The story, such as it is, moves at a snail's pace. The ending was predictable. The writing is stuffy...prissy. It was obvious that the storyteller thought that the ending was shocking and powerful...but it was just predictable and flat. Heed my warning...don't read this book!
Clare Snow
Mar 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Barbara Vine
"She was left alone for the rest of her life"

(view spoiler)

Oh god, horrific doesn't even cover it. Similar in its trajectory to King Solomon's Carpet and so very twisted. Why did every character repeatedly make choices to worsen their life? (Though Dolly & Dermot didn't exactly have any choice.) Because that's how Rendell treats her creations. It read more like Barbara Vine.

Two characters have schizophrenia. Their symptons are depicted better than many
I have one word for why I loved this book so much: Diarmit! Okay so he was a whack job extraordinare and a killer but hey it's fiction so I had no qualms whatsoever in laughing at the man who remains the funniest antagonist I have ever read. The main characters were interesting as well but I always looked forward to returning to Diarmit and his red (Conal's) clothes versus the other (Diarmit's) clothes debacle. You'll just have to read it to find out what I mean and if you have a sense of humor ...more
Spooky story. Was it really a pact with the devil or something else entirely? Freaky good mystery that sticks with you after reading it.
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ruth Rendell does the dark and twisty mind so well!
Whistlers Mom
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mental Illness is a Family Affair

The Yearmans are lucky, but don't know it. They live in a large old house in London in a neighborhood where most of the houses have been divided into apartments. Harold Yearman inherited the house and a business from his parents. A passive man, immersed in the historical novels he loves, he lacks the energy to maintain the house properly or to move to a less run-down neighborhood or to modernize the business. He's content to slide along.

But Harold is not immune
Apr 01, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

Glancing at the publication date of this, 1984, I was prepared to describe it as an early Rendell; yet according to the "Also by" list on the half-title verso she'd already by this time published a dozen Wexford novels (which surprised me less), ten of her psychological thrillers and three books of short stories. (I've no idea if by 1984 she'd instituted her Barbara Vine alter ego.)

The main focus is on brother and sister Pup and Dolly; he as a boy sold his soul to the Devil and took up the
Jun 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three for three with Ruth Rendell so far. This story concerns another family both too close and at odds at the same time. Dolly, a young very sheltered woman with a birthmark that's kept her in hiding most of her life, dotes on her teenage brother Pup. When he decides to become a magician (sorry, geomancer) Alister Crowley-style and sells his soul to the devil, she supports him all the way. Pup grows out of his adolescent interest and belief in magic. Dolly's not so lucky. She doesn't realize ...more
Oct 13, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I probably liked this book more than I should have just because it was an adult book after reading so many teen books. The writing is just so different when an author actually tries. Anyway, there didn't seem to be much of a plot and I didn't care one bit about the characters, but I still wanted to see what would happen since the characters were so bizarre. Maybe I'll try some of her other books since she was quite famous in her time. Perhaps this book was a fluke and her others will be better.
Jack Fricker
May 05, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: suspense
Basically a story about mental illness. Each character seems to have one to some degree or other.
This is a quick read and that's the reason I finished it. Otherwise it is fairly bleak and the characters all either unlikeable or pathetic.
The writing is good and there is no rambling or unnecessary descriptiveness.
Overall though I didn't find this book enjoyable - it was fairly predictable and just depressing.
Mar 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-suspense
Rendell's characters are wierd, bizarre, socially inept and just plain crazy. During the course of a book at least one of them descends even further into madness with murderous consequences.
This one concentrates on three such characters whose lives become intertwined, unknown to themselves. It is well written with several twists to the plot which kept me guessing as to the final outcome. A typical Rendell story, creepy and effective.
Elizabeth Mitchell
Kind of screwy. Enjoyed the dated feel and quaintness of the portrayal of the philandering brother Pup. The psychosis of two of the main characters was sympathetically portrayed. Tight, intense writing. I enjoyed the fine craft of the author and I always enjoy urban England settings no matter the
century or particular decade.
Feb 05, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: horror, fiction, own-it
Weird rather convoluted story of a woman going crazy.
Feb 11, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 I think, really enjoyed the writing but I did guess the ending.
Apr 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My first book by Ruth Rendell and I couldn't stop reading it. Such strange and psychologically interesting characters. Definitely will be reading more.
Mar 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all Ruth Rendell fans
This is probably my new favorite Rendell!
Feb 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
very surprising ending - strange book but kept me hooked the whole read
The Killing Doll, first released in 1984, is an example of Rendell's work as a writer of psychological suspense, and being the first Rendell I ever picked up, it introduced me to her work some twenty years ago. It also turned me into what I would describe as a constant reader. Though years may pass without reading one of her novels, there is usually an unread Rendell on my shelves. As soon as I have completed it, another appears to fill the void.

At the age of 85 Ruth Rendell very sadly passed
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The winter before he was sixteen, Pup's Mum died and he sells his soul to the devil. He wasn't quite sure what he was going to get in exchange. For the time being, all he asked for was to be happy, and to grow a bit taller. Even though she was older than Pup, Dolly was always in awe of her brother. More and more, she wanted to believe that he had occult powers and could do anything. Magic could remove the birthmark from her face and make her normal. Magic could kill their wicked stepmother, ...more
Jan 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

It's a complex mixing of two separate stories. The main story is about Dolly and Pup, siblings. While a young boy Pup gets interested in magic and becomes quite obsessed with it. Dolly goes along, making him a cape and helping him with his spells as needed. Over time, Dolly's interest grows while Pup's declines. Over time, too, Dolly's need for Pup becomes greater than his need for her.

The book was written in the early 1980s, and I believe the story takes place in the 1950s. I don't remember
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Almost all of Ruth Rendell books I have read (about ten of them at the present moment) deal with deranged/disturbed persons and what happens when they interact with (mostly) normal human beings. There is always a sense of impending tragedy in her books. Something really bad is going to happen, and the reader is usually aware of that, but not the characters. Some of her best books, like "A Judgement in Stone", we already know that something bad already happened - the point is to know "how" or ...more
Nov 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. Then again, I love reading about doomed people, and this work is chock full of 'em.

Relatively plot-less by Rendell's standards, the novel nevertheless does an excellent job chronicling the delectably miserable lives of two delusional outcasts; one is a jobless, dole-surfing, nervy Irish man who hails from the same part of the Emerald Isle as I do. The other is a young woman who, due to a facial deformity and sloppy parenting, becomes a batshit crazy alcoholic who talks to
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I liked the characters in this book. They all had their flaws, and weren’t particularly likable, but they were interesting. Two of them are mentally ill, and it’s interesting to see how they fell deeper and deeper into their delusions. People criticize this book because there isn’t much connection between the two mentally ill characters, but I think it’s really interesting to see the stressors that led them to where they end up. Was it just coincidence for Pup?
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Wish I could remember that I don't particularly like Ruth Rendell (I forget every couple of years) and this book is a perfect example of why. How can something that's less than 300 pages plod along so incredibly slowly? Characters were universally unpleasant (well, the two cats were fine, but they were tertiary) and the ending was obvious, just couldn't figure how it was going to get there. Bleah.
Johannes Herrmann
It's a fairly short book and I admit that I didn't finish more than about half of it. By that time the utter depression of the character's lives had gotten me into a sufficiently bad mood that I'm turning to something brighter. I won't be bothering to finish this one, although someone who appreciates the interactions of ... unusual and broken people may the best way to put it ... might well enjoy this one.
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A.K.A. Barbara Vine

Ruth Barbara Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, CBE, who also wrote under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, was an acclaimed English crime writer, known for her many psychological thrillers and murder mysteries and above all for Inspector Wexford.
“I kill, therefore I am.” 2 likes
“I never knew anyone actually buy cakes when they were hot ...” 1 likes
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