The Brilliance of Ruth Rendell

The Brilliance of Ruth Rendell

The death of Ruth Rendell in 2015 was sad for her family and also for the many fans of her writing.

No longer will we be able to follow the exploits of Inspector Wexford and his family.  No longer will we be able to make ourselves feel uneasy, but fascinated, by her standalone psychological thrillers, which explored the complex dark side of human nature.

An Immensely Talented Writer

Rendell’s writing was sophisticated enough to make her books stand out from the crime and thriller genre in general and become works of literature in their own right. Rendell appeared to have such an intimate knowledge of the inner recesses of the minds of disturbed and criminal people, that it is sometimes hard to believe that she was a law-abiding citizen. Yet she clearly was.

The Mind Of A Murderer

Rendell understood the universal truth that people are complex and that no one is all good or all bad. We are all capable of evil acts to some degree, no matter how small. In the right, or wrong circumstances, could any one of us commit a crime? It is easy to say no to this question.

But sometimes such certainties come with ignorance. If we, or our loved ones were threatened, who knows whether we would respond with violence or with reason? We can never really be sure until we have experienced such a situation.

I don’t think that Rendell sympathised with the minds of disturbed human beings, but she did appear to have great understanding of them. Which is why her portrayals of these people are so real, raw and convincing. When reading her books, you find yourself drawn into her storyline, and after you have turned the last page, her characters virtually take possession of your mind for some time afterwards.

Police Procedurals & Psychological Thrillers

Rendell wrote police procedural novels featuring Chief Inspector Wexford and Inspector Burden, as well as standalone psychological thrillers. In addition she wrote standalone thrillers under the name Barbara Vine.

She was equally talented at both of these types of genre, and I enjoy reading them both, when in different frames of mind. I will particularly miss Wexford and his family – his wife Dora, and his daughters Sheila and Sylvia, with whom I became familiar over the years.

Never Met A Criminal

Ruth Rendell apparently never met a criminal, and never studied or took much interest in criminology. Yet despite this, her insights uncannily portraying the thoughts and actions of criminally minded and unbalanced individuals.

According to Rendell’s obituary in the Telegraph (2 May 2015) she liked to eavesdrop on people’s conversations and preferred to walk rather than travel by car, so that she could study people. This people-watching clearly fertilised Rendell’s brilliant ideas and her great talent. Rendell was left-wing, a feminist and very aware of societal changes. This outlook influenced her work, as did her familiarity with London.

If you have somehow reached your present age and never read Ruth Rendell, then waste no more time and get hold of one of her books today. You won’t regret it.

Ruth Rendell Facts

  • Born:                 1930 in London
  • Died:                  2015 aged 85
  • First Book:        From Doon With Death in 1964
  • Last Book:        Dark Corners in 2015
  • Ruth Rendell:   50 novels, 2 novellas & 12 short story collections
  • Barbara Vine:  14 novels as Barbara Vine
  • Career:              Newspaper reporter & sub-editor
  • Married:           Donald Rendell in 1950
  • Family:             1 son named Simon
  • Awards:            3 Edgars & several bronze, silver & gold daggers
  • Plaudits:           Awarded a CBE in 1996 & became a Labour Peer in 1997