Ruth Rendell obituary – The Guardian
ruth rendell, lady rendell of babergh, also known as barbara vine, who died aged 85, was a literary phenomenon. Since 1964, when her country’s policeman, Reg Wexford, first introduced himself to the reading public in From Doon with Death, she has written more than 50 crime novels and seven books of short stories. many of them were adapted for television or made into feature films; The Wexford books in particular were huge hits on television, with actor George Baker playing Wexford as a big, gruff country cop solving crimes in the fictional Sussex town of Kingsmarkham.
but rendell was never satisfied with producing the annual whodunit. he proved this when, rather than follow up his first Wexford novel with more of the same, he leaped boldly from the classic English mystery in his second book, To Fear a Painted Devil (1965), giving readers a taste of the psychological thrillers. to come.
rendell’s cliché view is that she suddenly changed her style when, in the 1980s, she started writing as barbara vine, but the truth is that from the beginning, even in the wexford tales, she concentrated more on the characters and psychology. than the old police procedure. She wrote 24 Wexford books and produced as many thrillers under the Rendell name. Her first novel as Barbara Vine was An Eye Adapted to Darkness (1986), which won the Edgar Allan Poe Award from Mystery Writers of America. The following year, a second Barbara Vine, a fatal reversal, earned her the Golden Dagger of the Crime Writers Association.
The big difference from the Barbara Vine stories was that in them she got inside the heads of her psychopathic murderers and rapists. It was this that made them so dark and chilling, uncomfortable reading for Wexford fans who were used to the protection of the field officer standing between them and an unsafe world. Because of this, Rendell’s fans were divided into two rather warring camps, those who liked Wexford’s stories and those who felt that Barbara Vine was a great “real” novelist who was breaking new ground. the books were all, however, best-sellers. there could also have been a third camp, those who loved her wonderful tales. This was a dead or dying market in Britain, but Rendell was able to sell short stories in the US to publications like the Ellery Queen mystery magazine.
although rendell disliked the often-given title queen of crime, calling it sarcastic and sexist, she disagreed with the many critics, including wilson and pd james, who called her a great novelist. “Nobody in their right mind is going to call me a top-notch writer,” she said. “I don’t care because I do my best and thousands, millions of people enjoy my books.”
A very private individual, who could be touchy with interviewers, she nevertheless said she was going to be active in politics when she was made a life partner in 1997. That year she had donated £10,000 to the Labor Election campaign. In the lords, Rendell supported the bill to legalize assisted suicide: “The way I’m going, it won’t be for long, but all my aunts lived to be 90.”
The daughter of Ebba (nee Krause) and Arthur Grasemann, she was born in South Woodford, North East London. Her mother, who had been born in Sweden and lived in Denmark until she was 12, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and Ruth, an only child, was raised in part by a housekeeper to whom she said she was much closer than she was to his mother. Her father described him as “infinitely patient, infinitely loving, and infinitely kind.” she put a lot of it into wexford.
she attended loughton secondary school in essex and said she was very unhappy. her but she began to find herself when she left school and became a journalist. she worked at the chigwell times and at the age of 22 she was one of the best reporters. she got into trouble when she wrote a story about an old abandoned house and made up a ghost; the homeowner threatened to sue. she shortly after skipped the annual meeting of a local tennis club and she wrote the story from the speech prepared by the president of which she had a copy. After her article appeared in print, she learned that the president had dropped dead of a heart attack mid-delivery. she quit before she was fired.
at the age of 20 she had married don rendell, a reporter she met when they were both covering an investigation. she became a financial journalist at the daily mail and for 10 years rendell was a wife and mother. she described these as happy years, but during that time she went through a long apprenticeship, writing six novels, all of which were rejected. When her seventh, From Doon With Death, was accepted by John Long’s small publisher, she received £75 for it. “So no interviews,” she said, “nor for the next two novels.”
later she was frequently interviewed, although she was never a volunteer subject. when she was asked all too often what she would have been if she hadn’t become a novelist, she said she was a country and western singer. It was a surprise from her when she, during an interview on Norwegian television, was handed a microphone and asked to sing. When she was asked on BBC Radio 4 about how she wrote her stories, she said: “Oh, they just come to me.” she described what led her to write by saying, “I like to sit at a desk and write.”
rendell stated that, when writing his novels, he never did research, but “just made stuff up”. He later hired a researcher, but the great detail he gave to his stories was the result, he said, of taking long walks, especially in London. she became an expert in parks in the capital.
Her hobby was moving houses; she moved 18 times. For several years, she lived in a 16th-century pink manor house set in 11 acres in Suffolk, before returning to London. her only digression from a fairly established monotonous routine came when she in 1975 divorced her husband and then two years later she remarried him. he asked her why, she said that after they broke up, she found she couldn’t live without him, because he was the kind of man you could take a 200-mile car ride with and never have to say a word.
The mystery writers of america awarded him three edgars and the british crime novel writers association awarded him several gold and silver daggers. in 1991 she received the cartier diamond award for her outstanding contribution to the crime genre. It showed no signs of slowing down: Nobody’s Mockingbird, published in 2013, was a classic Wexford; And in 2014 he created a new detective, Colin Quell, for the girl next door.
rendell was very generous and gave away a large amount of money. she was vice president of the housing charity shelter and raised money for little hearts matter, which helps children with heart disease. She said she knew what it was like to be cashless, adding, “I don’t think it’s good for people to be born with money and not know what it’s like to never have it.”
Her husband died in 1999. She is survived by her son, Simon.