Ruth Rendell

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The Baroness Rendell of Babergh

Rendell in August 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's best-known creation, Chief Inspector Wexford, was the hero of many popular police stories, some of them successfully adapted for TV. But Rendell also wrote a second type of crime novel that deeply explored the psychological background of criminals and their victims, many of them mentally afflicted or otherwise socially isolated. This theme was developed further in a third series of novels, published under a pseudonym - Barbara Vine.

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.


Rendell was born Ruth Barbara Grasemann in 1930, in South Woodford, Essex (now Greater London). [2] 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. [3] Rendell was educated at the County High School for Girls in Loughton, Essex, [2] the town to which the family moved during her childhood.

South Woodford suburb of east London, England

South Woodford is a suburb of London in North East London situated 8.9 miles (14.3 km) north-east of Charing Cross. South Woodford, Woodford Green, Woodford Bridge and Woodford Wells form the area known as Woodford which has its origins dating back at least to the Saxon period. It was part of Essex until 1965.

Essex County of England

Essex is a county in the south-east of England, north-east of London. One of the home counties, it borders Suffolk and Cambridgeshire to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent across the estuary of the River Thames to the south, and London to the south-west. The county town is Chelmsford, the only city in the county. For government statistical purposes Essex is placed in the East of England region.

Greater London County of England

Greater London is a ceremonial county of England that is located within the London region. This region forms the administrative boundaries of London and is organised into 33 local government districts—the 32 London boroughs and the City of London, which is located within the region but is separate from the county. The Greater London Authority, based in Southwark, is responsible for strategic local government across the region and consists of the Mayor of London and the London Assembly. The City of London Corporation is the principal local authority for the City of London, with a similar role to that of the 32 London borough councils.

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. [4]

Rendell met her husband Don Rendell when she was working as a newswriter. [2] They married when she was 20, and in 1953 had a son, Simon, [5] now a psychiatric social worker who lives in the U.S. state of Colorado. The couple divorced in 1975 but remarried two years later. [6] Don Rendell died in 1999 from prostate cancer. [5]

She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1996 Birthday Honours [7] and a life peer as Baroness Rendell of Babergh, of Aldeburgh in the County of Suffolk, on 24 October 1997. [8] 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. [9] She introduced into the Lords the bill that would later become the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003.

Queen's Birthday Honours are announced on or around the date of the Queen's Official Birthday in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The dates vary, both from year to year and from country to country. All are published in supplements to the London Gazette and many are conferred by the monarch some time after the date of the announcement, particularly for those service people on active duty.

In the United Kingdom, life peers are appointed members of the peerage whose titles cannot be inherited, in contrast to hereditary peers. In modern times, life peerages, always created at the rank of baron, are created under the Life Peerages Act 1958 and entitle the holders to seats in the House of Lords, presuming they meet qualifications such as age and citizenship. The legitimate children of a life peer are entitled to style themselves with the prefix "The Honourable", although they cannot inherit the peerage itself.

Aldeburgh town in the English county of Suffolk

Aldeburgh is an English town on the North Sea coast in the county of Suffolk, to the north of the River Alde. It was home to the composer Benjamin Britten and has been the centre of the international Aldeburgh Festival of arts at nearby Snape Maltings, founded by Britten in 1948. It remains an arts and literary centre, with an annual Poetry Festival and several food festivals and other events. As a Tudor port, Aldeburgh was granted borough status in 1529 by Henry VIII. Its historic buildings include a 16th-century moot hall and a Napoleonic-era Martello Tower. Second homes make up about a third of its housing. Visitors are drawn to its Blue Flag shingle beach and fisherman huts, where fresh fish are sold daily, by Aldeburgh Yacht Club, and by its cultural offerings. Two family-run fish and chip shops are cited as being among the best in the country.

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. [10]


Baroness Rendell received many awards, including 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. A number of her works have been adapted for film or television. She was also a patron of the charity Kids for Kids [11] 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. [12]


Rendell had a stroke on 7 January 2015 [13] and died on 2 May 2015. [14]

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 her enduring and popular detective Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford. Rendell said that the character of Wexford was based on herself. [15] The Monster in the Box , released in October 2009, was widely suggested to be Wexford's last case. [16] This was incorrect; however, it was the final novel featuring Wexford as an employed policeman: in the novel that followed, The Vault , he had retired. [17]

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). [3] 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. [18]

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." [15] 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. [19] 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 ; [20] 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. [21] Two episodes of Tales of the Unexpected were based on Rendell's short stories.

Awards and honours


Inspector Wexford series

Standalone novels


Written as Barbara Vine

Short story collections

Uncollected short stories


Children's Books

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  13. "Ruth Rendell in critical condition after stroke". BBC News. 7 January 2015.
  14. "Author Ruth Rendell dies aged 85". BBC News. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
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  24. Published in Academy Mystery Novellas, Volume 5: Women Write Murder, Martin H. Greenberg and Edward D. Hoch, editors. 1987