Joe is Sandor's. When Joe leapt towards the tracks that lay before an oncoming tube train, Sandor pulled him back as much with his personality as with his hands. With a past that manages to fit Italian kidnappings and a typical suburban childhood side by narrative side, Sandor is a mystery to Joe, who informs the reader of the plans that Sandor grudgingly reveals to him; but none of that matters to Joe. Joe wants, needs to be Sandor's servant. He loves Sandor, and Sandor, he knows, loves him too. Who else could he love?

A tale told by an idiot, full of Sandor's fury, signifying nothing: morally, at any rate. Vine (alias Ruth Rendell), like Patricia Highsmith, knows how to make the reader empathize for what at first glance always seem like barely human creatures. And although Joe's resolute ignorance of Sandor's true motives (and his sometimes everyday meanness) cloys after a while, it should probably be read more as the blindness of the most definitely love-sick. One ought to think: despite his violent upbringing, Joe is not so much backward as wrapped in the blurring fog of his depression; nonetheless, by the middle of the book (a testament to the author) Sandor's character is clear as day to the reader, and it ought to be clear to Joe. Can Joe be simultaneously this unaware plot-cipher and still provoke an emotional response from us?

But this is a niggle, noticed more in retrospect than in the reading. Gallowglass is a well-written, clever, exciting page-turner. It provides a frighteningly detailed description of twisted love arising from twisted circumstances but being no shallower an emotion for all that. At times it almost feels as though this was what the thriller form was built for, revealing these perfect imperfections. Barbara: I'm yours.