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Although King Solomon’s Carpet is the first Vine’s (but also Rendell’s) book I have ever read, and therefore the one which hooked me enough to get me to read the rest, rereading it awoke only the faintest memories, so that I discovered the story, as for the first time…

If Grasshopper presents characters whose lives strangely involve walking over the roofs of London, the characters in King Solomon’s Carpet have all different reasons to spend much time in its tube. Jarvis, owner of a disaffected school he inherited from his family, is fascinated by undergrounds, to the point that he writes books about them and travels only to discover other underground systems in the world. To be able to afford this lifestyle, he lets rooms to other people he met in the tube, such as Tom. Tom is a musician who gave up school after an accident, but feels happy as a busker playing in stations with other musician friends, Peter and his boyfriend Jay, who also move to the school. Tina, Jarvis’s promiscuous cousin, lives here too with her children, Jasper and Bienvida. Nine-year-old Jasper skips school and with the carelessness of his age, risks his life getting his thrills on the tube. Alice, a woman who left her husband and baby, meets Tom, who fancies her as his savior and soon joins the tenants of the school, but what she wants to do is what she left her family for: play the violin as a professional.  In the school, there is also Jed and his starved hawk Abelard…

All these misfits cohabit more or less peacefully until the arrival of Axel, a troubled man with a dark secret, who disturbs the quiet atmosphere of the place as he sets something terrible in motion. The reader assists to the building of tension until the final paroxysm, knowing that tragedy is inevitable, but only guessing what exact form it could take…

As with other novels, Barbara Vine’s knack for juggling with the familiar and the weird is intact, her characters are true, deep, always damaged beyond repair, mistreated and led to the worst by circumstances and chance encounters. The atmosphere she creates is disquieting and oppressive (the opening scene with a woman caught at the rush hour in the tube actually gives the reader the impression that he/she can hardly breathe), her style is precise and literary. King Solomon’s Carpet is a gem, amongst Vine’s best novels…