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RUTH RENDELL: An Appreciation

Just over four years ago I wrote a review of one of my favorite Golden Oldies, From Doon With Death, by Ruth Rendell.  As I wrote in that May 2011 post, I first read the novel more than thirty years ago, and I vividly remembered what an impressive debut it was.

Ms. Rendell died last month at age 85.  Of course I didn’t know her personally, but I imagine that she must have been, in addition to her obvious literary talents, an interesting lady.  She started out as a journalist, was assigned to cover a local meeting, and wrote the story.  The problem was that Ms. Rendell hadn’t attended the meeting and thus didn’t know that the night’s speaker had died suddenly in the middle of the talk he was giving; not surprisingly, she was fired.  Not quite an auspicious career beginning.

However, she had more success with her first Inspector Wexford novel, the above-mentioned From Doon With Death, and it was followed by twenty additional Wexford novels.  The author said that her protagonist was modeled after herself, although he was a police detective and she became, in 1997, a lifetime peer, the Baroness of Babergh.  In a Simon & Schuster video she said, “I’m not creating a character so much as putting myself as a man on the page.”  Not something, certainly, that every female author could do, or could do with such authority.

In addition to the Wexford mysteries, Ms. Rendell wrote under the pen name Barbara Vine.  Those novels were darker, more terror-inspiring, perhaps because, as she told the Associated Press, “I don’t think the world is a particularly pleasant place.”

Perhaps not, but certainly Ruth Rendell made it a much more exciting place for the millions of readers who enjoyed her books, which were translated into over twenty languages.  On the Wikipedia short biography page about her, she is placed, under the heading “People also search for,” alongside Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Patricia Highsmith, and Elizabeth George.  Heady company indeed, but very well-deserved.

Ms. Rendell was the recipient of three Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America plus four Gold Daggers and a Diamond Dagger from England’s Crime Writers’ Association.

Ruth Rendell’s last book, Dark Corners, will be published in October.  How caring of her to have left us a final gift.


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