Sunday, May 3, 2015

Ruth Rendell RIP

“I think you’re getting things a bit out of proportion, Mr Parsons.”

With this line – from the first chapter of her debut published novel, FROM DOON WITH DEATH – so began the illustrious career of Ruth Rendell, who died yesterday, May 2nd at the age of 85.

Baroness Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell was brought up in east London. She began her literary career as a journalist on a local Essex newspaper. Even then her flair for fiction became apparent when she wrote up a dinner at a tennis club without attending, and therefore failed to mention that the chairman had dropped dead halfway through his after-dinner speech!

George Baker as Detective Chief Inspector Reg Wexford, and Christopher Ravenscroft as D.I.  Mike Burden

Rendell wrote half a dozen unpublished novels before beginning her long-running Inspector Wexford series, the first of which – mentioned above – was published in 1964. She wrote more than 60 novels, translated into over twenty languages, and was reputed to have sold in excess of 60 million copies.

She wrote both under her own name and under the pseudonym Barbara Vine – a combination of her middle name and her great grandmother’s maiden name. The Vine books were noted as dark psychological thrillers. Rendell claimed they were “more serious and more analytical” than her Rendell novels.

Rendell achieved huge financial success as well as critical acclaim. She won several Dagger Awards from the UK Crime Writers’ Association, including two Golds, and was presented with the Cartier Diamond Dagger in 1991 for continued excellence in the field. She is said to have given away large sums to charity every year, and was the vice-president of the housing charity Shelter. In 1996 she was appointed a CBE and made a Life Peer the following year, becoming known as Lady Rendell of Babergh.

PD James with Ruth Rendell in 1993

I can’t claim any more of a connection than once having been in the same room as Ruth Rendell, but I admired her as a writer. I admired the fact she disliked being known as the Queen of Crime, apparently she thought it snide and sexist. I admired her stance on social issues, such as her introduction in 2003 of an Act which made it a crime to send girls abroad to be subjected to female genital mutilation.

But I wonder what she would have made of the accolades that have been poured on her following her death. That she was a leading member of her generation of writers is without doubt, but the media have repeatedly asserted that she “elevated crime fiction into literature” when she herself said, “Nobody in their senses is going to call me a first-class writer. I don’t mind because I do the very best that I can and thousands, millions, of people enjoy my books.”

Who could ask for more than that?

Also, when the story broke, on a day that also saw the birth of a royal princess, Ruth Rendell’s passing was considered a more momentous news item.

If you have any memories of Ruth Rendell, or would like to mention your personal favourite of her many novels, I’d love to hear them.

This week’s Word of the Week is deracinate, a lovely word I happened across in a novel by Robert Wilson which I’ve been reading for the panel I’m moderating at CrimeFest later this month. The word means to pull up by the roots, to isolate or remove from a native culture or environment. From the Old French deraciner, from the Latin radix a root.


  1. I'm so sad! Ruth Rendell was one of my favorites. She did so much to advance the crime fiction genre through the strength and quality of her writing. One of a kind, and she will be missed.

    1. I agree with you there, Lisa. With the recent loss of PD James as well, there's a large hole appeared in the upper echelons of crime writing.

    2. A good friend of MIE, Barbara Leavy, dedicated much of her professional life to Ruth Rendell's work. I'm sure she feels she's lost a colleague in far more than spirit.

      Sorry I won't see you at CrimeFest this year, my love, but I've been derriereassinated from the festivities. :) Hope to see you at Bloody Scotland in September ...and I know I'll see you, Ms. International Guest of Honor, at Bouchercon in Raleigh in October.

  2. A woman of huge personal integrity, stuck by her principles. The sort of human being we could do with more of. She will be greatly missed.

  3. agree with everything said above - such a loss! At the Las Vegas BCon, somehow I got invited to the organizers suite, where Ian Rankin and the like hung out. Ruth Rendell, intl guest of honor maybe?, walked in and Ian said do you know Ruth? I gulped uh her work of course. Want to meet her? So Ian Rankin introduced me and I almost dampened my underwear. I was wedged between Ian and Lady Rendell against a sofa in this bizarre Vegas suite. Ian said, "Seen much of Phyllis (PDJames) lately?" She shrugged "Not much. Doing a lot of yoga these days en route to the House (of Lords? Commons?) but we do pass on the steps." That's what I remember besides being awestruck, mute and wedged between these Giants in rhinestoney fushcia colored room!

    1. OMG, Cara, what a wonderful memory! Yoga on the way to the House of Lords...