Ruth Rendell

Last updated

The Baroness Rendell of Babergh

Ruth Rendell in 2007
BornRuth Barbara Grasemann
(1930-02-17)17 February 1930
South Woodford, Essex, England
Died2 May 2015(2015-05-02) (aged 85)
London, England
Pen nameBarbara Vine

Ruth Barbara Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, CBE ( née  Grasemann; 17 February 1930 – 2 May 2015) was an English author of thrillers and psychological murder mysteries. [1]


Rendell is best known for creating Chief Inspector Wexford. [2] A second string of works was a series of unrelated crime novels that explored the psychological background of criminals and their victims. This theme was developed further in a third series of novels, published under the pseudonym Barbara Vine.


Rendell was born Ruth Barbara Grasemann in 1930, in South Woodford, Essex (now Greater London). [3] Her parents were teachers. Her mother, Ebba Kruse, was born in Sweden to Danish parents and brought up in Denmark; her father, Arthur Grasemann, was English. As a result of spending Christmas and other holidays in Scandinavia, Rendell learned Swedish and Danish. [4] Rendell was educated at the County High School for Girls in Loughton, Essex, [3] the town to which the family moved during her childhood.

After high school she became a feature writer for her local Essex paper, the Chigwell Times. However, she was forced to resign after filing a story about a local sports club dinner she hadn't attended and failing to report that the after-dinner speaker had died midway through the speech. [5]

Rendell met her husband Don Rendell when she was working as a newswriter. [3] They married when she was 20, and in 1953 had a son, Simon, [6] now a psychiatric social worker who lives in the U.S. state of Colorado. The couple divorced in 1975 but remarried two years later. [7] Don Rendell died in 1999 from prostate cancer. [6]

She made the county of Suffolk her home for many years, using the settings in a number of her novels. She lived in the villages of Polstead and later Groton, both east of Sudbury. She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1996 Birthday Honours [8] and a life peer as Baroness Rendell of Babergh, of Aldeburgh in the County of Suffolk, on 24 October 1997. [9] She sat in the House of Lords for the Labour Party. In 1998 Rendell was named in a list of the party's biggest private financial donors. [10] She introduced into the Lords the bill that would later become the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 (the intent was to prevent the practice).

In August 2014, Rendell was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian expressing their hope that Scotland would vote to remain part of the United Kingdom in September's referendum on that issue. [11]


Baroness Rendell's awards include the Silver, Gold, and Cartier Diamond Daggers from the Crime Writers' Association, three Edgars from the Mystery Writers of America, The Arts Council National Book Awards, and The Sunday Times Literary Award. [2] A number of her works (see the section below) have been adapted for film or television. [12] [13] She was also a patron of the charity Kids for Kids [14] which helps children in rural areas of Darfur. There is a blue plaque on one of her homes, 45 Millsmead Way, in Loughton. This was unveiled by her son Simon on 24 February 2016. [15] Four of her novels appear on the British-based Crime Writers Association Poll (1990) of the best crime fiction novels ever written: two under the Rendell name and two under her pen name of Barbara Vine.[ citation needed ]


Rendell had a stroke on 7 January 2015 [16] and died on 2 May 2015. [17]


The Ruth Rendell award was introduced in 2016 by the National Literacy Trust. It is awarded to authors for their work in inspiring children and improving their literacy. [18]

Developing the thriller genre

Rendell wrote two unpublished novels before the 1964 publication of From Doon with Death , which was purchased for £75 by John Long; it was the first mystery to feature Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford. Rendell said that the character of Wexford was based on herself. [19] The Monster in the Box , released in October 2009, was widely suggested to be Wexford's last case. [20] This was incorrect; however it was the final novel featuring Wexford as an employed policeman. In the two following novels, The Vault and No Man's Nightingale, he was retired but was still involved in police investigations as a "consultant". [21]

In Introducing Chief Inspector Wexford by Daniel Mallory he says (based on a 1990 interview with Rendell by Marilyn Stasio) that Rendell refers to the hated Agatha (Christie) and that awful Marple woman; and says of St. Mary Mead that she can hardly bear to say the name of that village where one finds a lot of normal, law-abiding people living ordinary, blameless lives, who suddenly decide to murder their aunt. Well, I don’t believe that. [22] (Introducing Chief Inspector Wexford by Daniel Mallory; from 1990 Rendell interview with Marilyn Stasio)

In addition to these police procedurals starring Wexford, Rendell wrote psychological crime novels exploring such themes as romantic obsession, misperceived communication, the impact of chance and coincidence, and the humanity of the criminals involved. Among such books are A Judgement in Stone , The Face of Trespass , Live Flesh , Talking to Strange Men , The Killing Doll , Going Wrong and Adam and Eve and Pinch Me . For the last novel published in her lifetime, The Girl Next Door, she returned to the Loughton of her childhood, with an implied comparison of the moral climate of wartime England and 2014.

Rendell created a third strand of writing with the publication in 1986 of A Dark-Adapted Eye under her pseudonym Barbara Vine (the name was derived from her own middle name and her great grandmother's maiden name). [4] King Solomon's Carpet , A Fatal Inversion and Asta's Book (alternative U.S. title, Anna's Book), among others, inhabited the same territory as her psychological crime novels while further developing themes of human misunderstandings and the unintended consequences of family secrets and hidden crimes. The author was noted for her elegant prose and sharp insights into the human mind, as well as her cogent plots and characters. Rendell injected the social changes of the last 40 years into her work, bringing awareness to such issues as domestic violence. [23]

Adaptations of her works

The Inspector Wexford series was successfully televised, starring George Baker as Inspector Wexford and Christopher Ravenscroft as Detective Mike Burden, under the title The Ruth Rendell Mysteries , with 48 episodes from 1987 to 2000. Rendell praised Baker's performance, stating "It was a marvellous achievement as an actor to make him more and better than the author intended." [19] Many of her other works have been adapted for film and television. She said that Chabrol's 1995 version of A Judgement in Stone , La Cérémonie with Sandrine Bonnaire, was one of the few film adaptations of her work that she was happy with. The novel was also filmed in 1986 with Rita Tushingham. [24] Chabrol made La Demoiselle d'honneur in 2004, based on The Bridesmaid .

Other adaptations are Diary of the Dead (1976), from the book One Across, Two Down ; the 1997 Pedro Almodóvar film Live Flesh ; [25] The Tree of Hands , directed by Giles Foster for Granada with Lauren Bacall (U.S. title: "Innocent Victim"); and another version of The Tree of Hands, Betty Fisher et autres histoires (2001, a.k.a. Alias Betty), with screenplay and direction by Claude Miller. Francois Ozon's 2015 film The New Girlfriend was based on Rendell's short story of the same name. [26] Two episodes of Tales of the Unexpected were based on Rendell's short stories - "A Glowing Future" (series 4, episode 15) and "People Don't Do Such Things" (series 8, episode 1).

Awards and honours

Coat of arms of Ruth Rendell
Rendell of Babergh Achievement.png
Gules three interlaced chevronels argent each ensigned by a brimstone butterfly displayed proper.
On either side a bear statant erect proper gorged with a plain collar gobony gules and or fimbriated gules.
Vixi Scripsi [28]
Commander of the Order of the British Empire


Inspector Wexford series

Standalone novels


Written as Barbara Vine

Short story collections

Uncollected short stories

Uncollected round-robin short stories to which Rendell was a contributor


Children's Books

Related Research Articles

Val McDermid Scottish author

Valarie "Val" McDermid, is a Scottish crime writer, best known for a series of novels featuring clinical psychologist Dr. Tony Hill in a grim sub-genre that McDermid and others have identified as Tartan Noir.

George Baker (British actor) English actor and writer (1931-2011)

George Morris Baker, MBE was an English actor and writer. He was best known for portraying Tiberius in I, Claudius, and Inspector Wexford in The Ruth Rendell Mysteries.

Minette Walters English crime writer

Minette Caroline Mary Walters DL is an English crime writer.

<i>The Ruth Rendell Mysteries</i> British television crime drama series

The Ruth Rendell Mysteries is a British television crime drama series, produced by TVS and later by its successor Meridian Broadcasting, in association with Blue Heaven Productions, for broadcast on the ITV network. Twelve series were broadcast on ITV between 2 August 1987 and 11 October 2000. Created by renowned author Ruth Rendell, the first six series focused entirely on her main literary character, Chief Inspector Reg Wexford, played by George Baker. Repeat airings of these series changed the programme's title to The Inspector Wexford Mysteries. However, later series shifted focus to other short stories previously written by Rendell, with Wexford featuring in only three further stories, in 1996, 1998 and 2000. When broadcast, these three stories were broadcast under the title Inspector Wexford.

The Dagger of Daggers was a special award given in 2005 by the Crime Writers' Association (CWA) to celebrate its 50th anniversary. All books that had previously won the CWA Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year were eligible, and the purpose was to select "the best of the best". The shortlist was selected by a ballot of CWA members, with the winner decided by a second round of voting.

<i>A Fatal Inversion</i> 1987 novel by Ruth Rendell

A Fatal Inversion is a 1987 novel by Ruth Rendell, written under the pseudonym Barbara Vine. The novel won the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger in that year and, in 1987, was also shortlisted for the Dagger of Daggers, a special award to select the best Gold Dagger winner of the award's 50-year history.

Chief Inspector Reginald "Reg" Wexford is a recurring character in a series of detective novels by English crime writer Ruth Rendell. He made his first appearance in the author's 1964 debut From Doon With Death, and has since been the protagonist of 23 more novels. In The Ruth Rendell Mysteries he was played by George Baker.

<i>End in Tears</i>

End in Tears (2005) is a novel by English crime writer Ruth Rendell, the twentieth in her acclaimed Inspector Wexford series.

<i>Simisola</i> 1994 novel by Ruth Rendell

Simisola is a 1994 novel by British crime writer Ruth Rendell. It features her recurring detective Inspector Wexford, and is the 17th in the series. Though a murder mystery, the book also touches on the themes of racism and welfare dependency.

<i>An Unkindness of Ravens</i>

An Unkindness of Ravens is a murder mystery by British crime-writer Ruth Rendell. First published in 1985, it is the 13th in her series featuring Inspector Wexford.

<i>A Sleeping Life</i>

A Sleeping Life is a crime-novel by British writer Ruth Rendell, first published in 1978. It features her popular investigator Detective Inspector Wexford, and is the tenth novel in the series. It was shortlisted for the Mystery Writers' Of America Edgar Award, making it one of only two Inspector Wexford novels ever to have been shortlisted for either of the "big two" crime-fiction awards, the Edgar or the CWA Gold Dagger. An Unkindness of Ravens was also nominated several years later.

<i>No More Dying Then</i>

No More Dying Then is a novel by the British crime-writer Ruth Rendell. It was first published in 1971, and is the sixth title in her popular Inspector Wexford series. The Independent Mystery Booksellers Association listed the book as one of its 100 Favourite Crime Novels of the Century.

<i>A Dark-Adapted Eye</i>

A Dark-Adapted Eye (1986) is a psychological thriller novel by Ruth Rendell, written under the nom-de-plume Barbara Vine. The novel won the American Edgar Award. It was adapted as a television film of the same name in 1994 by the BBC.

<i>The False Inspector Dew</i>

The False Inspector Dew is a humorous crime novel by Peter Lovesey. It won the Gold Dagger award by the Crime Writers' Association in 1982 and has featured on many "Best of" lists since.

<i>The Monster in the Box</i>

The Monster in the Box is a novel by British crime-writer Ruth Rendell, published in 2009. The novel is the 22nd in the Inspector Wexford series.

<i>The Vault</i> (novel) 2011 novel by Ruth Rendell

The Vault is a novel by British crime-writer Ruth Rendell, published in 2011. The novel is the 23rd in the Inspector Wexford series. It is a sequel to her previous standalone novel A Sight For Sore Eyes. The novel is the first sequel Rendell has written, and the first to feature Wexford in retirement.

<i>The Saint Zita Society</i>

The Saint Zita Society is the 62nd novel by British crime-writer Ruth Rendell, a standalone novel. It is not part of her popular Inspector Wexford series.

<i>No Mans Nightingale</i>

No Man's Nightingale is a novel by crime writer Ruth Rendell published in 2013, It featuring her recurring protagonist Inspector Wexford. The novel is the second in which Wexford has appeared after his retirement, and on this occasion is called in to consult on a crime by his ex colleague and friend Mike Burden.

<i>The Girl Next Door</i> (Rendell novel)

The Girl Next Door is a novel by British crime author Ruth Rendell which is published in 2014. It was the last of her novels published in her lifetime.

<i>The Barbara Vine Mysteries</i>

The Barbara Vine Mysteries is a British television mystery drama series, principally written by Sandy Welch and Jacqueline Holborough and directly solely by Tim Fywell, that first broadcast on BBC1 on 10 May 1992.


  1. Alison Flood (1 March 2013). "Ruth Rendell: a life in writing". The Guardian . Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  2. 1 2 The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Sixth edition. Ed. by Margaret Drabble. Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 847. ISBN   0-19-866244-0.
  3. 1 2 3 "Ruth Rendell, crime writer - obituary". 2 May 2015. Retrieved 23 March 2018 via
  4. 1 2 LibBrooks (3 August 2002). "The Profile: Ruth Rendell". The Guardian.
  5. "Author Ruth Rendell dies aged 85". BBC.
  6. 1 2 "Open and shut case: Is Ruth Rendell finally ready to open up about her puzzling personal life?". The Independent. 10 March 2013.
  7. Brooks, Libby (3 August 2002). "Ruth Rendell Dark Lady of Whodunnits". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 28 October 2011.
  8. "No. 54427". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 June 1996. p. 9.
  9. "No. 54933". The London Gazette . 29 October 1997. p. 12149.
  10. "'Luvvies' for Labour". BBC News. 30 August 1998.
  11. "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories". The Guardian. London. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  12. Ruth Rendell (1930–2015). IMDb
  13. The Hutchinson Encyclopedia of Literature. Helicon Publishing, 2006.
  14. "How We Are Run". 6 May 2015. Archived from the original on 13 September 2015. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  15. "Blue plaque unveiled for renowned and much-loved author Ruth Rendell". East London and West Essex Guardian Series. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  16. "Ruth Rendell in critical condition after stroke". BBC News. 7 January 2015.
  17. "Author Ruth Rendell dies aged 85". BBC News. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  18. "Nominations for the annual Ruth Rendell Award are now open". Educate magazine. 23 June 2021. Retrieved 6 February 2022.
  19. 1 2 "Wexford is me, Ruth Rendell confesses". BBC News. 10 October 2011.
  20. Walker, Tim (4 May 2009). "Ruth Rendell closes the book on Wexford but new drama beckons". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
  21. Alison Flood. "Ruth Rendell: a life in writing | Books". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  22. Rendell, Ruth (2007) [1964]. From Doon with Death (2 ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. p. 217. ISBN   978-0-345-49845-8.
  23. Vanessa Thorpe (17 August 2013). "Ruth Rendell: 'Withholding information from the reader should be part of any story'". The Guardian.
  24. anxietyresister (24 April 1987). "A Judgment in Stone (1986)". IMDb.
  25. "Ruth Rendell returns to ITV after 12 years with a dark thriller". 6 August 2012.
  26. "The New Girlfriend review – bold adaptation of a Ruth Rendell short story". 21 May 2015.
  27. "Novels up for 'lost' Booker Prize". BBC News. 1 February 2010.
  28. Debrett's Peerage. 2000.
  29. Published in Academy Mystery Novellas, Volume 5: Women Write Murder, Martin H. Greenberg and Edward D. Hoch, editors. 1987

Further reading

A critical essay on Rendell's crime novels appears in S. T. Joshi's book Varieties of Crime Fiction (Wildside Press, 2019) ISBN   978-1-4794-4546-2.