Barbara Vine’s forte is psychological suspense acted out by characters with minor peculiarities. KING SOLOMON’S CARPET draws on her strengths, presenting a mix of odd characters and their stories that draws in the reader, who will know that something tragic is probably going to happen but will not be able to guess quite what it will be.
Jarvis Stringer owns a Victorian-style home that used to be a school. Comfortable with a limited income, he lets out rooms in his home cheaply, attracting a variety of down-on-their-luck roomers. Among them are Alice, who has just abandoned her husband and infant with a goal of returning to her violin music; Tom, a flutist whom Alice meets while he is playing in a station in the London Underground; Axel, who formerly traveled in the subway accompanied by a man in a bear suit; and Jasper, a child looking for thrills who rides on the tops of subway cars. Stringer is writing a book about subways of the world, and pages from it concerning the London system are interspersed with the main stories, giving some history and new perspectives on the events that are unfolding.
Main plot lines concern Alice, who falls in love first with Tom, who wants her to stay with him in the subway, playing for tips, and then with Axel, to whom she is drawn without quite knowing why. Tom develops a fixation on Alice, not wanting to believe that she no longer loves him and trying to prevent her from achieving her goal of becoming a concert violinist. His interaction with Axel results in one of the many turning points of the novel.
Each character has an interesting story, and each story is delivered neatly. The resolutions are clean and completely in line with the psychology of the characters that Vine has so deftly developed.