In Memoriam: Ruth Rendell

Novelist Ruth Rendell / Photo: Felix Clay for the Guardian
Novelist Ruth Rendell / Photo: Felix Clay for the Guardian
Over the weekend, we (and everyone else) noted the death of crime writer Ruth Rendell at the age of 85. As prolific and talented as she was, even a Labour Party member of the House of Lords as Baroness Rendell of Babergh, one could simply accept as proof of her accomplishments the scores of books she'd written, the millions of them sold, the many awards, and then lifetime acheivement awards, she received. But readers don't require critical or commercial acclaim to understand her appeal, because she created suspense without pyrotechnics, stories that most of all, and at times painfully, leverage the reader's own humanness. Her tales can be exquisitely twisted, yet somehow, they also feel as if they might be happening right next door. From the New York Times:

Chief Inspector Wexford was almost christened Waterford, as Ms. Rendell recalled. On vacation in Ireland, she visited both Wexford and Waterford and decided that either would be acceptable for her sleuth’s surname. So, how did she settle on “Wexford”?

“I don’t know why,” she said. “I guess I just like the letter ‘X.’ ”

Ms. Rendell also wrote a score of stand-alone novels, typically featuring protagonists on the edges of society. From her earliest writing days, Ms. Rendell wanted to do more than create puzzles revolving around who killed whom and why. So, as she recalled for Simon & Schuster, she laced her mysteries with such themes as racism in the English countryside, damage to the environment, domestic violence and arranged marriages among immigrants.

She acknowledged worrying early on that her readers might not like her delving into such serious issues. “But they did,” she said. “They wrote to me and told me that they did.”

We really, really did. Thanks for all the words.

Leading image from Laura Barnett's 2013 interview with Ruth Rendell in the Guardian.

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