Saturday, May 2, 2015

Ruth Rendell (1930-2015)

It is sad news for me to report that Ruth Rendell, with the late P. D. James one of Britain's duo of post-Golden Age Queens of Crime Fiction, has died.  Four months ago Rendell suffered a stroke that left her in critical condition; I had heard nothing of her condition since, so the news of her death is not a surprise to me, though it is still a shock, as it always is when one learns of the passing of an author whose books one has read and enjoyed for years.

Ruth Rendell (1930-2015)
I believe the first Rendell I read was an Inspector Wexford, probably Shake Hands Forever (1975), in the mid-1990s, probably around 1994 (I will have to check this).  I know I was immediately impressed by the Christie-like misdirection in some of her earlier Wexfords (A Sleeping Life, 1978, was another one by her that I read early on).  By the time I had started reading Ruth Rendell, however, she had moved with her then-current work more and more into the realm of the psychological crime novel, both under her own name, and a pseudonym she created in 1986, Barbara Vine.  Under the latter name she produced some of her best work in the 1980s and 1990s, including the masterful Asta's Book (1994), one of the great modern crime novels.

Rendell grew increasingly restive with the puzzle aspect of the her Inspector Wexford novels (something Raymond Chandler, not one of the mystery genre's most natural plotters, compared to "coolie labor") and by the 1990s was lengthily exploring social issues in the Wexfords.  To my mind her Wexfords of the 1990s--Kissing the Gunner's Daughter (1991), Simisola (1994), Road Rage (1997) and Harm Done (1999)--still have much enjoyment to offer puzzle fans, as well as those who enjoy the broader focus of the crime novel.

Rendell's last Wexford detective novel, No Man's Nightingale, appeared in 2013, nearly a half-century after the first, Rendell's classic debut novel, From Doon with Death (1964). A new Rendell crime novel, Dark Corners, completed by Rendell shortly before she was felled by her stroke, will appear later this year.  It's an appropriate title.  Rendell illuminated the dark corners of the human mind for over a half-century, holding fans in her narrative grip through 66 novels and 7 original short story collections.  Like the work of her equally prolific predecessor, Agatha Christie, Rendell's work will, I believe, last as permanent fixtures in the crime fiction canon.  RIP Ruth Rendell.

1 comment:

  1. It will be three months tmorrow since her death, and it still has a sense of unreality to me when I see 17 February 1930 - 2 May 2015. I met her twice, and corresponded with her, so there has been a feeling of personal loss in addition to the loss of my favorite writer. And I will always remember the date of her death because it was my late sister's birth anniversary.