Ruth Rendell, grande dame of crime thrillers, dies at 85
British author Ruth Rendell, who died on Saturday aged 85, followed the late Agatha Christie and P.D. James as a grande dame of the crime thriller.books Updated: May 02, 2015 19:52 IST
British author Ruth Rendell, who died on Saturday aged 85, followed the late Agatha Christie and P.D. James as a grande dame of the crime thriller.
Rendell, who published more than 60 books in a career spanning five decades, sold hundreds of thousands around the world, with her work translated into 25 languages. Rendell was best known for psychological thrillers delving into the criminal mind as well as the successful television adaptation The Ruth Rendell Mysteries.
Born Ruth Grasemann on February 17, 1930, she grew up in a London suburb in a family of teachers. Her mother was born in Sweden and brought up in Denmark and her father was English.
She started out as a journalist, writing feature copy for a local paper, the Chigwell Times, but was forced to resign after reportedly inventing stories.
Rendell's fictional creation, the sensitive Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford, featured in her first novel From Doon to Death (1964) and throughout her career. The first published novel came almost by default -- she submitted a comedy of intrigue to a publisher who did not like it and asked if she had anything else.
She gave him the manuscript of a detective Wexford story which was gathering dust in a drawer and it was published. The detective retired in The Vault (2011) but she continued writing and her latest book, The Girl Next Door, came out in 2014.
Speaking about her most famous creation, Rendell recently explained: "I don't get sick of him because he's me. He's very much me.
"He doesn't look like me, of course, but the way he thinks and his principles and his ideas and what he likes doing, that's me. So I think you don't get tired of yourself," she told the Guardian.
Seeking to avoid being typecast she also wrote suspense and psychological novels under the pseudonym Barbara Vine. The author explained that her talent for suspense came from a studious love of literature. "I think one looks at great fiction and sees how that is done. Think about Emma," a novel by 19th-century author Jane Austen, she told the Guardian.
"We know there's something strange about Jane Fairfax, but it's not until very far on that we realise that all the time she's been engaged to Frank Churchill. There's nothing clumsy about it, nothing appears to be contrived, and it's done by withholding."
Rendell was appointed Baroness Rendell of Babergh by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997, on the recommendation of then prime minister Tony Blair, becoming a member of the House of Lords.
Firmly to the political left, she described herself as a "working peer". She wrote her novels in the morning, limiting herself to four hours' work, and in the afternoon sat in the upper house of parliament, going through draft laws and debating government policy.
She was awarded four Gold Daggers and a Diamond Dagger from England's prestigious Crime Writers' Association, as well as three Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America among many other accolades.
She was a close friend of fellow British crime writer P.D. James, who died in 2014 at the age of 94. She married Don Rendell in 1953 and the two had a son. Her husband died in 1999 from prostate cancer.
Following her stroke in January, publisher Jean-Claude Berline, the French editor of her next book, said that after P.D. James's death, Rendell was "the last grande dame of the police thriller".