The Rag and Bone Shop
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|Cover artist||Victor Stabin|
|Genre||Young adult fiction|
|Publisher||Delacorte Books for Young Readers|
|October 9, 2001|
|ISBN||978-0-385-72962-8 (hardcover) 978-0440229711 (paper back)|
|LC Class||PZ7.C81634 Rag 2001|
|Reading age: 9-13 years|
The Rag and Bone Shop (2001) is Robert Cormier's final novel, published October 9, 2001, eleven months after his death. The novel takes its name from the final line of William Butler Yeats's poem "The Circus Animals' Desertion".
Jason Dorrant is a lonely thirteen-year-old boy who is a suspect in the brutal murder of Alicia Bartlett, the younger sister of a classmate. Trent, an expert interrogator who is known to get confessions that seem impossible to obtain and who has never lost a case, is called in to interrogate Jason, who is Alicia's friend and the last known person to see her alive. An ambitious man looking to move up in the ranks, Trent hopes to win the favor of an influential Massachusetts senator. Trent discovers that Jason had few friends prior to the crime save for Alicia, whom he finds fascinating. He says that she is like a little old lady. Jason was the last person to see Alicia alive and is the prime suspect, although he doesn't know it – Trent tells Jason that the information he is providing is voluntary.
Trent interrogates Jason in a small white-walled room with no ventilation and a single light bulb dangling from the ceiling, and he twists the information that Jason gives him into a distorted story that makes Jason look guilty of Alicia's murder. Trent makes Jason look like a violent maniac simply because he reads and watches science fiction, gaslighting him until the boy begins to doubt his own statements and innocence. Ultimately, Jason comes to believe Trent's fabrication that he is a blood-thirsty killer so strongly that he confesses to the crime.
With the confession tape in hand, a triumphant Trent walks towards another detective expecting to be praised for his handiwork, but she looks at Trent accusingly and explains that Alicia's older brother was the killer, not Jason; there were witnesses, and he has been taken into custody. Alicia's older brother and a friend of his initially tried to cover up the crime, but under strict questioning their stories fell apart and Alicia's older brother confessed. The female detective accuses Trent of coercing Jason's confession, and this is reported to his superiors. The result is that Trent has successfully killed his own career; he is not demoted in actual rank, but faces permanent reassignment to overnight shifts and will never be called on to conduct interrogations again.
Meanwhile, with the investigation over and Trent blacklisted by his own actions, Jason is left alone to struggle with inner demons Trent helped create. Jason is unable to decide what he is now: the same person he was before Alicia's murder, or a murderer, a reprehensible person. He ponders, "Did he kill her? No. Could he have killed her? No, but could he kill someone worthy of death? Say, a bully?" In the final twist, Jason fulfills the role that Trent assigned him, grabbing a butcher knife and heading to the local YMCA, where bully Bobo Kelton is.
- William Butler Yeats. "Poetry, Drama, and Prose". Ed. Patricia Pethica. p.128