A new novel from Barbara Vine (or Ruth Rendell, her alter ego) is always cause for celebration, and in this exceptional psychological thriller, she displays all her mastery of craft to draw the reader into an unfamiliar world. She paints a vivid picture of the roots of obsession in the history of a young woman whose love of high places has been marked by tragedy, guilt, and exile from her family's home.
Clodagh Brown has always been frightened by enclosed spaces and loved climbing, a phobia and passion that resulted in the death of her high school sweetheart. As a college student living in the basement of a distant relative's home in Maida Vale, a slightly shabby London neighborhood, she encounters a group of peers who share both of these psychological quirks and introduce her to the steep rooftops of her new surroundings. Clodagh soon falls in love with Silver, a young man whose top-floor apartment across from her flat houses a diverse and fascinating group of people. Their youthful idealism and moral certainties are often at odds with conventional values and legal niceties. While Clodagh and Silver carry the story, their peers present ample opportunities for Vine to showcase her talent for imagining a multiplicity of lives and personas--from Liv, the Swedish au pair who can clamber over rooftops like a mountain goat but is terrified of what awaits her on level ground, to Jonny, whose pathological need to dominate the others, particularly Liv, leads to the shocking and tragic denouement. When the climbers chance upon a top-floor flat where a couple and their adopted mixed-race son are hiding from the authorities (who would remove the child from their care), Vine's ability to alter pace without sacrificing story or character really stands out. Grasshopper is an acutely drawn, immensely satisfying book. --Jane Adams