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The Rag and Bone Shop


The Rag and Bone Shop

Robert Cormier's final novel, THE RAG AND BONE SHOP, takes its name from a line in a poem by William Butler Yeats --- "I must lie down where all the ladders start/In the foul rag–and–bone shop of the heart." In this novel, Cormier explores the lengths to which a person might go. In the end, both of the book's main characters discover they have gone too far. 

It turns out that Jason had visited Alicia the day of her death. Jason wants to do all he can to help the police catch her killer. He agrees to tell them everything he knows. The police, meanwhile, suspect that Jason is the killer. They turn to a man named Mr. Trent who specializes in interrogation. Trent has never failed to get a criminal to confess. He is especially motivated in this case --- a senator with an interest in Alicia's murder has promised to help his career if he gets a confession.

A good portion of the book takes place in a small, hot, windowless room --- the interrogation room. Cormier describes it in enough detail to make the reader as uncomfortable as Jason is while he is being questioned. The way Trent works is also detailed --- first he does everything he can to gain Jason's trust, then Trent tries to persuade him to confess to killing his young friend. At the same time, Jason struggles to understand both what Trent wants from him and what he remembers about Alicia's last day alive.

Cormier moved smoothly between the two characters' points of view, building suspense and driving the story to its powerful conclusion --- a conclusion with no winners.

Although the book is very nearly flawless, it may be one chapter too long. The final chapter concerns the aftermath of Jason's experience with Trent. It wraps up the book with a shocking surprise, but it also seems a bit unrealistic, taking a believable story and stretching our ability to believe it a little too far. The chapter is unnecessary due to the excellent job Cormier did describing Jason late in the book.

Even with the last chapter, however, THE RAG AND BONE SHOP, like many of Cormier's classics, including THE CHOCOLATE WAR, is a dark and fascinating book. Cormier died in November of 2000 at the age of 75, but THE RAG AND BONE SHOP clearly reveals that he was still at the top of his game, writing in his characteristic uncluttered style and making full and powerful use of his knack for revealing the motivations of his characters in this suspenseful and sad story. Part mystery and part cautionary tale, THE RAG AND BONE SHOP is a fine finale to Cormier's career.

Reviewed by Rob Cline on May 13, 2003

The Rag and Bone Shop
by Robert Cormier

  • Publication Date: May 13, 2003
  • Mass Market Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Laurel Leaf
  • ISBN-10: 0440229715
  • ISBN-13: 9780440229711