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Talking to Strange Men

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  662 ratings  ·  55 reviews
A schoolboys' spy game takes a chilling and deadly turn under the deft direction of the inimitable Ruth Rendell.
Mass Market Paperback, 328 pages
Published September 12th 1988 by Fawcett (first published 1987)
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3.71  · 
Rating details
 ·  662 ratings  ·  55 reviews

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Sep 12, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: random, pub-1987
I read this because I was in a mood for some good classic mystery novel. Unfortunately, it was neither of those things.

First of all, I should've picked something American, as I find all mid-sized English towns dreary, and can hardly ever muster any enthusiasm for books taking place in mid-sized English towns.

This wasn't a crime novel per se, more of a story of a pathetic, depressed man whose wife left him for some scoundrel and who becomes obsessed with decoding messages of what he think is a
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I considered one star, but this is Ruth Rendell, one of my bygone favorite authors...whose books occupy book shelves in my homes. But then, were my actual favorites the Barbara Vine variety?
I don't think I own this one. This was a library loan in this case because I thought it would be fun to get the Rendell twist on Soviet spy craft just following after the Daniel Silva book I read.
There are codes, English school boy spy games and many other oddities with a full cast of wacky and depressed c
Hilary G
Jun 17, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
Ruth Rendell novels adapt very well to the audio format and the ones I have listened to have all been enjoyable. Her plots are intricate. Have you seen those pseudo-family trees that "prove" connections between rock stars and royalty, politicians and criminals...? Rendell plots are like that. They remind me of dropping a small blob of ink on blotting paper and seeing the tendrils creep out and join up. Her characters are not always very likable, and often have curious names, but they always seem ...more
Stephen Lawton
Dec 25, 2014 rated it liked it
I'm not really sure what I thought of this "two stories that eventually intersect" story. On the one hand I couldn't follow nor was interested in the schoolboy spies story. On the other I was interested in the "hopelessly wants to get back with his ex-wife" story and the very bizarre revelations that came with it. There was definitely a build up of tension once the stories intersected and I'm very glad that one of those stories didn't go the way it could have as that would have been very hard to ...more
Sep 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chilling. Want to play spy? Not after reading this.

Really enjoyed theis one because of the story and the ending.

Rendell's novel tells the story of several people who don't know each other and how thier lives intersect. An example of unintended evetns.
Dec 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps my favourite Rendell yet?
Alison C
Oct 15, 2017 rated it liked it
John Creevey has lost a lot in his life - his parents, his sister (murdered) and most recently his wife, who just left him to go back to the man she was going to marry until she was dumped at the last minute. He’s got his job running a gardening centre, a couple of casual friends and a hope that he can win his wife back, but mostly he’s just alone. When he stumbles across some coded messages sort of hidden in plain sight, he takes it as a sign that he should try to interpret them, wondering if t ...more
Aug 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mysteries
Ruth Rendell is one of my favorite writers, but this is my least favorite Rendell book so far. It is well done, but I just couldn’t get invested in either “side” of the story. A group of teenagers has created an elaborate game of codes and mock espionage. A lonely man longing to reunite with his ex-wife stumbles on their game, and the paths of the two begin to intertwine. The man thinks he has come across a real nest of spies, while the youths are trying to figure out whether someone within or o ...more
Feb 19, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Tegenvaller. Ik vond deze Ruth Rendell tegenvallen. Door de beschrijving lijkt of het een leuk, spannend boek is, maar er zit geen spanning in. De twee verhaallijnen blijven naast elkaar en komen ook aan het einde niet echt bij elkaar, het zijn (en blijven) dus eigenlijk twee aparte verhalen. Toen ik het boek uit had, vroeg ik me af wat Rendell als plot bedoeld had.
Ik vond het verhaal ook wat ouderwets overkomen, het boek is zo'n 25 jaar oud en dat merk je ook. Er zit veel moraal in over o.a. sa
Foster Winter
I always expect Ruth Rendell's books - as she is a Brit author within the mystery genre - to be more of the cozy mysteries. But she's not that at all. Even though that's what I had expected, she does a wonderful job at creating images and feelings about the circumstances and settings of her stories.

In this particular one, however, there were parallel plots that I expected to merge with some amount of irony, and it never happened. Does that make it wrong,or a poor read? Probably not - only that
Mauricio Villa
Feb 02, 2015 rated it liked it
This is the 20th Rendell book I read and possibly her worst, however it still has some saving graces. I find the plot of the spy network to be a little forced, even as a child's game. It takes very long to get into and is downright boring in certain times. It took a long time to finish even as the plot sped up. I however find the title to be perfect, and it relates to many points of the book. I found the dynamic between Charles and ____ to be sort of controversial and certainly daring, but not i ...more
Jan 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Rendell has an almost magical ability to take perfectly normal things and people doing slightly strange things and turn them into something you really Don't Want To Think About. (And boy can she write "That Guy" - they're always far too creepily real for comfort).

I've enjoyed others of hers more than this - probably because John is a lot like some of her other Sad Male/TG characters - but the "spy ring" subplot gradually won me over (largely due to the awful, wonderful Mabledene). Bit glib in pa
Judith Cranswick
Jan 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
There is something compulsive about Ruth Rendell's psychological suspense novels. I'm not sure why I enjoy her novels so much. The characters are always dysfunctional and rarely likeable and the endings are never cosy but the novels are hauntingly memorable. Talking to Strange Men certainly kept me wanting to know about the school boys' intrigues and the poor unfortunate
John Creevey. It is possibly my favourite Ruth Rendell story.
Mary Monks
Nov 26, 2016 rated it did not like it
As you can see by my 1-star rating, I did not enjoy this book.
I have read lots of Ruth Rendell books over the years, but this one did not appeal at all.
Many times I felt "lost" in the plot and the many characters.
It would be classified as mystery genre, but I can't say I'd recommend it.
May 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: gave-up-on
I started reading Talking to Strange Men cause there were many quotes in the Cryptography and Network Security.

Thinking of it as Detective and Mystery, but the moment I knew it is children playing prank around novel I stopped reading it.
Apr 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Took a while to get into it but had me captivated pretty quickly. Vintage Rendell. Strange how books from the 80s now feel as old as those from, say, the 50s. Shows the high quality of this story that it's still a great read 20 years later.
Whistlers Mom
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
George Orwell famously wrote that the Battle of Waterloo "was probably won on the playing fields of Eton." Meaning that the unofficial education that privileged English men receive at exclusive boarding schools molds them for lives of leadership and success. But the famous navel battle is far removed from the London of 14-year-old Mungo "Bean" Cameron. In the year 1987, sons of well-heeled families are likely to attend private schools as day students, especially those who live in London and have ...more
Dec 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I registered this book at!

A small group of private school boys are engaged in a spy game. It's fairly elaborate - there are two opposing groups, each with a leader and with "drop" locations, safe houses, and coded messages.

John Creevey, an adult suffering from his wife's departure, happens upon one of the drops and starts to copy the messages and try to decipher them. He becomes quite involved in the puzzle, and tries to figure out w
Jan 01, 2017 rated it liked it
Thus far, this is not my favorite Rendell book. It is intricate and complicated with lots of discussion about codes and spy games organized by school boys. I skipped a lot of those chapters, just getting enough of the essence of them to move into other chapters involving other characters - most of them quirky, lonely, and strange. Makes for interesting reading and I've hung in there long enough to finally start enjoying it.
Dec 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery
Of the many fiction mysteries I've read by Ruth Rendell, this is the first one the style of which seemed thoroughly tedious to me.
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Another brilliant interweaving of separate people with lives that didn't seem like they could cross paths, but did. The more I read of Rendell, the more impressed I am.
Dec 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Readers of psychological mysteries
Shelves: 2009, mystery
After stumbling upon and reading hidden messages from one group member to another, John Creevey believes he has uncovered an espionage ring or possibly an underground mafia group planning crimes and even murder. What he's really found is a harmless game played by school boys in which coded messages are hidden in what the boys believe is a "safe drop" away from the prying eyes of adults. Creevey's interference in the harmless pranks and plots of these boys forms the basis for Rendell's story.

Carla Patterson
Oct 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015-challenge
This is one of my all-time favorite Rendell novels. First of all, it's a standalone, nothing to do with Wexford. Second of all, it combines a wonderfully evocative setting and set of characters (one of Rendell's overriding talents) with a really good story. I think she sometimes loses me in terms of her stories because there are too many characters I just don't like (wouldn't want to know them) mixed with story elements which seem contrived to me. For example, although I realize that there are a ...more
Pamela Mclaren
A very different story from what I have read by Ruth Rendell, Talking to Strange Men is about misperceptions and decisions made blindly. At the very beginning you have a man that notices what he perceives is another man leaving a message wedged into a pillar. The reader thinks so too — gradually, you realize that these secret messages — in code — are not from some mafia, a John Creevey believes, but by teens, who are involved in a game of cloaks and daggers.

Meanwhile, John's wife has left him fo
Kasey Jueds
Feb 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, fiction
I read this for the first time years ago--just reread it, because I'd forgotten so much, and loved it just as much as I had originally. I feel like I've already written (over and over) what I love about Ruth Rendell... here, especially, I love the fact that along with gripping, startling plot and believable, (mostly) sympathetic, fascinating characters, she's concerned with--and writes beautifully, subtly about--questions of ethics and morality, the surprising and sometimes horrifying repercussi ...more
Aug 11, 2011 added it
Shelves: 2005, ruth_rendell
Ian & Mungo Cameron, Charles Mabledene, & Graham O'Neill are precocious London schoolboys who enjoy a sophisticated game of devising, exchanging, & translating coded messages. Conventionally middle-class John Creevey becomes obsessed with intercepting & deciphering these messages even as he plots revenge on his estranged wife, Jennifer, & her lover, Peter Moran, an intellectual ne'er-do-well pederast. An intriguing subplot deals w/ the long-unsolved murder of John's sister, C ...more
Nov 17, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, this was a really strange book. I know, it's Ruth Rendell so it is going to be strange, but it was a little more difficult than most of hers to even understand. And it seemed just a little contrived. It is parallel stories about school boys who run some artificial spy ring and a sad middle-aged man who stumbles upon it and thinks it's real. It becomes a consolation for him through his life disappointments and it inadvertently becomes very real for one of the members. This sounds like a goo ...more
Stephen West
May 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A tour de force by one of the greatest crime writers. Not a typical crime novel by any means, and in some ways a young adult novel, or at least half of one, the attraction for me was the author's ability to completely inhabit the minds of her protagonists, and to so effectively contrast the sad and desperate life of the adult protagonist with those of the privileged public schoolboys, for whom life is still a game, albeit one which is beginning to adopt some serious and life-changing aspects. Ab ...more
Jayne Charles
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read the first chapter or so about five times before I fully understood what was going on. This is certainly a highly original idea - an abandoned husband manages to infiltrate the coded messages being sent between a group of boys playing a spy-game. Except it's a game they take very seriously indeed. I think that's it anyway. I found the spy ring side of things rather difficult to follow, and I would no doubt make a lousy spy. The adult characters were excellent, though. Top marks for origina ...more
Aug 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As always, Ruth Rendell's characters are complex, flawed and fascinating. The schoolboy spy games that inadvertently spill over into adult lives are fascinating. Love in many guises appears in the novel, and the final possibilities are pleasing. Not all loose ends are tied up thank goodness.
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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.