Classic Crime

Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell Biography

Born Ruth Barbara Grasemann on the 17th February 1930 in Woodford Green, Ruth Rendell was the acclaimed author of the Chief Inspector Wexford series and psychological novels. Many of her books, including many of the Wexford novels have been adapted for television.
Her first book to be published was Wexford’s debut, From Doon With Death in 1964. Her second novel was the psychological thriller, To Fear A Painted Devil and throughout her writing career, Rendell was to produce a significant number of both.

In the 1980s, Rendell started a third strand to her writing with the emergence of Barbara Vine. Thirteen novels were written in total with one short story under that pseudonym. Many of the themes running throughout this series dealt with crimes in the past and how they impacted on the present. Her most famous ones are A Dark-Adapted Eye, A Fatal Inversion, King Solomon’s Carpet and my personal favourite Vine, Asta’s Book which was first formed by her Danish grandparents moving to Britain.

One of Rendell’s first jobs was as a feature writer for her local paper, the Chigwell Times. However, she resigned from the post when she filed a story having not attended the event and not knowing that the main speaker had died of a heart attack mid-speech! She admitted herself years later that she felt she was better equipped to writing fiction rather than fact!

Rendell met her husband Don Rendell who was a news writer and married at the age of twenty, producing a son, Simon in 1953. It was a long marriage, but they divorced for a few years before remarrying again. They remained together until Don’s death in 1999.

Rendell is one of the most decorated writers of all time, winning the Gold Dagger four times, (twice as Rendell, the two under the Vine persona) as well as the Silver Dagger and ultimately the Cartier Diamond Dagger in 1991. She was also awarded Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement.

Rendell was made a Life Peer in 1997 and was known as Baroness Rendell of Babergh.

She suffered a stroke in January 2015 and passed away on the 2nd May 2015.

Rendell left us a huge body of work of an amazing high standard. She was revered by her fellow writers and readers and forged a close bond to P.D. James, leading both women to be accredited with turning the simple crime puzzle into a novel that could be judged alongside any mainstream novel. They both made crime fiction a creditable genre and one that was finally given respect.

If you want to read Rendell then here are a few suggested titles: A Guilty Thing Surprised, The Bridesmaid, Asta’s Book, The Killing Doll, Live Flesh, Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter and A Demon In My View.

Review: A Sight For Sore Eyes

Teddy Brex emerges from a loveless, isolated childhood as a handsome young man. Francine Hill, emotionally and mentally scarred by the murder of her mother, grows into a beautiful young woman, who must endure the overprotectiveness of an increasingly obsessive stepmother.
Teddy Brex does ride to her rescue, but he is a man who has already committed two murders.

Everyone knows I love Rendell’s books. Even my sister rang me up at work one day to ask if I had a particular Rendell (in this case it was ‘The Veiled One’) that she had seen and bought for me when she spotted it! All my family knew I’d be quiet for a few days when a new Rendell was started!

In 1998, Rendell bought out ‘A Sight For Sore Eyes’ which I am now highlighting on my third reading. Every time I read it I spot something new. Teddy Brex has to be one of Rendell’s best creations. He is not evil, he simply has a skewed version of the world. Although the word is not mentioned, from his behaviour, I imagine that these days Teddy would be classed as being on the autistic spectrum. He doesn’t have the greatest start with a family that have never shown a modicum of love. They are merely people he had the misfortune to live with. His behaviour towards Francine is obsessive and he wants her his way and no other – merely to have Francine as a work of art that he can sit back and admire.

Teddy has committed murder, but not because of the usual emotions of love, hate, anger, revenge or gain, but purely because they are in his way. If someone hinders his progress, then he simply removes them. This coldness in Teddy is the nearest Rendell gets to emulating Highsmith’s own creation, Tom Ripley.

There is not just the obsession of Teddy over Francine. There is Francine’s stepmother, Julia who obsesses over the girl who found her murdered mother years before, believing Francine is too fragile for the outside world and must be protected at all costs. However, as Francine grows older, she begins to try and break those bonds only to find herself in the arms of Teddy who is as obsessed of Francine as Julia. Although Francine is a victim to these two strong personalities, Rendell does not make her pathetic, although definitely naïve.

With slow and well-timed precision, Rendell peels away the layers of her story winding up with a sad moral to her story. I never feel that Teddy gets his come-uppance. In fact, I feel sad as Teddy is not evil, but misguided and ill-informed after being isolated, emotionally and physically all his life. ‘A Sight For Sore Eyes’ is always in my Rendell Top Ten and one I go back to time and again. This is a great starting point for any new reader to Rendell’s work and one I urge you to re-visit if you have read it before. ‘A Sight For Sore Eyes’ is the sort of book you can read and then understand why Rendell was so lauded during her writing career. Sublime.

N.B. For the one and only time, Rendell was to cross a psychological novel with a Wexford case, 'The Vault' which takes place in Arcadia Place and is well worth reading after 'A Sight For Sore Eyes'.

Reviewed by: C.S.

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