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FROM DOON WITH DEATH by Ruth Rendell: Book Review

In 1964, Ruth Rendell’s first mystery, From Doon With Death, was published. The jacket’s blurb states that the publisher, “in keeping with its policy of attracting and encouraging the most promising new authors,” takes great pleasure in publishing this novel.  Did they truly ever suspect that the young Ms. Rendell would be the acclaimed author of more than fifty novels, nearly two dozen of which feature, as does her first, Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford?

I read From Doon with Death more than thirty years ago, but it’s always remained in my memory as an outstanding piece of legerdemain.  Although an internet piece on Ms. Rendell states that she broke from the mold of the British Golden Age mystery writers (Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers), I think that From Doon with Death is very much like Ms. Christie’s novels in its ability to fool the reader with red herrings.

The novel opens when Ronald Parsons, a neighbor of Detective Inspector Mike Burden, calls Burden to tell him that his wife Margaret is missing. She’s a woman of regular habits, her immediate family is deceased, she has made no friends since their move to Kingsmarkham six months earlier, but she’s not home when Ronald returns from work.  No clothes are missing from the meager assortment in her closet, nor is her luggage missing.

Burden tells Parsons not to worry, that she’s simply out somewhere and that she’s bound to return home shortly.  But she hasn’t returned by the next morning.  And a day later her body is found in a nearby forest.

Her life seems innocuous enough, except that when Wexford and Burden return to Parsons’ home for another search of the premises they find in the attic several volumes inscribed to Mina with much love from Doon.  Ronald Parsons says he never called his wife by that name nor heard anyone else call her that.  So were the books actually inscribed to Margaret Parsons, or did she acquire them from someone else?

As the investigation proceeds, the police discover that Margaret had lived in Kingsmarkham when she was a teenage girl in school. Her husband doesn’t see that as having any relevance to the murder, but Wexford wonders if someone or something from her past has caught up with her, perhaps the mysterious Doon.  Wexford finds a teacher and several of Mrs. Parsons’ classmates still in town, but no one seems to be able to shed light on why anyone would have killed her.  Her only relative, a cousin who moved to America following World War II, may have the answer, but the police are having trouble locating her.

The end of the novel came as a complete surprise to me on my first reading.  From Doon with Death shows the brilliance of Ruth Rendell, even in her first novel.

You can read more about Ruth Rendell at