Robert Cormier

The Rag and Bone Shop

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The Rag and Bone Shop Summary

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The Rag and Bone Shop was the last book written and published by young adult author Robert Cormier before his death in 2000. The book is split into three parts. Part 1 opens with Carl Seaton admitting to breaking and entering, as well as a triple murder. Only seventeen years old, Carl is confessing to Trent, who assures Carl that the police will arrive soon. The Stone family was supposed to be on vacation; Carl had planned to break in and steal their guns. However, when he gets to their house, he finds them at home and asleep. Carl also finds three guns and shoots the family members.

As part 2 begins, Jason Dorrant is just starting his summer vacation after completing the seventh grade. He plans to spend the morning swimming at the YMCA and the afternoon home alone. His mother works as a volunteer, his little sister, Emma, has a play date, and his father is away on business. Meanwhile, Alicia Bartlett, a seven-year-old last seen alive by Jason, is found dead in the woods. It appears she’s been killed and posed, and Detective Braxton already has a suspect in mind. When Jason hears about Alicia’s death, he cries. Emma tries to comfort him as Braxton arrives to question him.

The district attorney, Alvin Dark, calls Trent on Braxton’s advice. Trent is an officer famous for his interrogation skills. Trent accepts the case. The next day, the police bring Jason to the station. His mother allows him to go by himself because, not only does she have to take Emma to the doctor, but the police tell her that they have a special interrogator who is helping witnesses remember details about Alicia’s disappearance.

The interrogation starts off alright—Trent gets an innocent vibe from Jason—but then things take a downturn as Trent finds out that Jason likes science fiction, adventure, and especially horror books and films. He tries to highlight Jason’s affinity toward violence. Jason recalls that the police told him his visit to the station was voluntary, so he leaves while Trent is out of the room. When Trent returns to find Jason gone, he presumes Jason is running away because he’s guilty. He follows Jason and convinces him that running away from the interrogation makes him look guilty, so Jason agrees to continue answering Trent’s questions. They return to the police station and the interrogation room.

Trent asks Jason about his friendship with Alicia. He reminds Jason that though he thought they were friends, Alicia often teased him just like other people who weren’t his friends. Jason complains that he’s thirsty, and Trent goes to get him something to drink. Trent is eager to get a confession out of Jason though. As they continue to talk about Alicia, Jason reveals that Alicia was fighting with her brother Brad on the day she was murdered. More and more, Trent becomes convinced of Jason’s innocence.

However, he’s there to perform a job, and he wants to collect his fee and the favor promised to him by a local senator if he helped to close the case of Alicia’s murder. So, Trent tells Jason that the police consider Jason to be their prime suspect for the crime, but that he, Trent, can keep Jason safe. All Jason has to do is admit to killing Alicia. Jason falls for Trent’s promises and confesses to killing her.

Later, in Part 3, and after he returns home, Trent finds out that the police tore apart Brad’s alibi. Not only do they know Brad killed his sister, but he confessed to it as well. It’s obvious then that the confession Trent got out of Jason was not only inaccurate but coerced. Trent won’t be receiving any favors from the senator, and his professional reputation is destroyed. Meanwhile, Jason tries to deal with the mental and emotional anguish of having confessed to murdering Alicia.

He has to go on medication and has nightmares every night. Jason must try to determine his identity once more. He decides that while he’d never be capable of murdering someone like Alicia, he would be capable of murder. The book ends with Jason taking a knife and waiting to commit a murder.

Robert Cormier was an author and journalist. His young adult novels were known for pessimistic overtones, which explain the ending of The Rag and Bone Shop. He’s also known for the realistic nature of his novels. Over the course of his career, Cormier wrote nineteen books, including I Have Words to Spend, Now and at the Hour, and Frenchtown Summer. Cormier won the 1997 Phoenix Award for I Am the Cheese, which was published twenty years earlier. That same book also won him the 1991 Edwards Award.