THE BOOKS OF RUTH RENDELL
Essay by Judy Harris
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PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLERS ADAM AND EVE AND PINCH ME 2001 THE BRIDESMAID 1989 THE CROCODILE BIRD 1993 DARK CORNERS 2015 A DEMON IN MY VIEW 1976 THE FACE OF TRESPASS 1974 THE GIRL NEXT DOOR 2014 GOING WRONG 1990 HEARTSTONES 1987 A JUDGEMENT IN STONE 1977 THE KEYS TO THE STREET 1996 THE KILLING DOLL 1984 THE LAKE OF DARKNESS 1980 LIVE FLESH 1986 MAKE DEATH LOVE ME 1979 MASTER OF THE MOOR 1982 ONE ACROSS, TWO DOWN 1971 PORTOBELLO 2008 THE ROTTWEILER 2003 SECRET HOUSE OF DEATH 1968 A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES 1998 THE ST. ZITA SOCIETY 2012 TALKING TO STRANGE MEN 1987 THE THIEF 2006 THIRTEEN STEPS DOWN 2004 TIGERLILY'S ORCHIDS 2010 TO FEAR A PAINTED DEVIL 1965 THE TREE OF HANDS 1984 VANITY DIES HARD 1965 THE WATER'S LOVELY 2006
CHIEF INSPECTOR WEXFORD NOVELS BABES IN THE WOOD 2003 THE BEST MAN TO DIE 1969 DEATH NOTES 1981 END IN TEARS 2005 FROM DOON WITH DEATH 1964 A GUILTY THING SURPRISED 1970 HARM DONE 1999 KISSING THE GUNNER'S DAUGHTER 1992 THE MONSTER IN THE BOX 2009 MURDER BEING ONCE DONE 1972 A NEW LEASE OF DEATH 1967 NO MAN'S NIGHTINGALE 2013 NO MORE DYING THEN 1971 NOT IN THE FLESH 2007 ROAD RAGE 1997 SHAKE HANDS FOR EVER 1975 SIMISOLA 1995 SINS OF THE FATHERS 1986 A SLEEPING LIFE 1978 SOME LIE AND SOME DIE 1973 SPEAKER OF MANDARIN 1983 AN UNKINDNESS OF RAVENS 1985 THE VAULT 2011 THE VEILED ONE 1988 WOLF TO THE SLAUGHTER 1967
BARBARA VINE ANNA'S BOOK 1993 THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT 2008 THE BLOOD DOCTOR 2002 BRIMSTONE WEDDING 1986 THE CHILD'S CHILD 2012 THE CHIMNEY SWEEPERS BOY 1998 A DARK-ADAPTED EYE 1986 A FATAL INVERSION 1987 GALLOWGLASS 1990 GRASSHOPPER 2000 THE HOUSE OF STAIRS 1989 KING SOLOMON'S CARPET 1991 THE MINOTAUR 2005 NO NIGHT IS TOO LONG 1994
Ruth Rendell is my favorite author and I've read everything she's written; I prefer her psychological thrillers to her Wexfords. I got to meet her in person at three different book signings when she was in New York; one was a reading of THE CROCODILE BIRD and one was a couple of years earlier when she was in town to coincide with the annual Fifth Avenue Book Fair which took place on a Sunday late in September. Most recently I saw her at the NYC 86th Street Barnes & Noble where she read the opening chapter to THE VAULT, her Wexford sequel to A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES.
This webpage "grew" over a number of years, and I've recently decided to revamp it, because it became rather chaotic, as far as organization. Among other things, as time wore on, more and more of her books were adapted into films, either for TV or the cinema, and in almost all cases (in my opinion) failed to capture in these adaptations extremely cinematic and visceral moments that were obvious (to me) in the book(s). If you have not read a particular Rendell title, and don't want the plot surprises revealed, then SPOILER ALERT, do not read the column headed "Film", where I discuss my disappointments in various adaptations. Of course, no film can give the experience of a full novel, with its omniscient narrator and access to the very thoughts of the main protagonist, and some of my quibbles are with these omissions.
I have taken the lazy route and pasted in reviews published by PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY, where available, and other Internet sources.
|1965||VANITY DIES HARD||Alice Whittaker was 37, rich but dowdy, with no career. Her life a lonely failure, she had got by with the one thing she did have - money. Then handsome Andrew Fielding came into her life, and just as suddenly her beautiful friend, Nesta, vanished from it - leaving a trail of confusing clues.||Adapted as a 3-part 1995 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1965||TO FEAR A PAINTED DEVIL||Gossip in tiny Linchester is raised to new heights when young Patrick Selby dies on the night of his beautiful wife's birthday party. The whole neighborhood was there, witness to the horrible attack of wasps Patrick suffered at the end of the evening. But did Patrick die of the stings? Dr. Greenleaf thinks not. After all, wasps aren't the only creatures that kill with poison||Adapted as a 2-part 1989 episode entitled DANSE DE SALOME of the 20-part French TV series LE MASQUE, which I have never seen.|
|1968||SECRET HOUSE OF DEATH||Louise North doesn't care what the neighbors think. She lets her lover leave his car just outside her house in broad daylight, telling everyone a cockamamie story about him being a central heating salesman. Still, it's a shock when she's found shot dead, covered by the equally dead body of the "salesman." Now Susan Townsend -- the Norths' next-door neighbor, who discovers the bodies -- must help Louise's husband, Bob, get back on his feet. But is she helping a neighbor . . . or a murderer?||Adapted as a 2-part 1996 episode starring Owen Teale of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1971||ONE ACROSS TWO DOWN||Two things interest Stanley Manning: crossword puzzles, and the substantial sum his wife Vera stands to inherit when his mother-in-law dies. Otherwise, life at 61 Lanchester Road is a living hell. For Mrs. Kinaway lives with them now—and she will stop at nothing to tear their marriage apart. One afternoon, Stanley sets aside his crossword puzzles and changes all their lives forever. In One Across, Two Down, master crime writer Ruth Rendell describes a man whose strained sanity and stained reputation transform him from a witless loser into a killer afraid of his own shadow. Mischievously plotted, smart, maddeningly entertaining, One Across, Two Down is a dark delight—classic Rendell.||Adapted as the 1976 film DIARY OF THE DEAD, adapted by Robert L. Fish (who wrote the novel underlying BULLITT), starring Hector Elizondo, Austin Pendleton and Geraldine Fitzgerald. This is an example of a novel that had such potential for edge-of-the-seat tension that director Arvin Brown totally missed. There is a sequence in the book where the dead body of his mother-in-law is hidden under a bed, while the doctor pronounces her best friend dead, under the assumption it is the mother-in-law, that a talented director could have milked; in addition, the burying of the body in the back yard, trying to avoid the prying eyes of the neighbors could also have been a tense sequence, but is completely flubbed in the film.|
|1974||THE FACE OF TRESPASS||Two years ago he had been a promising young novelist. Now he survived - you could hardly call it living - in a near derelict cottage with only an unhooked telephone and his own obsessive thoughts for company. Two years of loving Drusilla - the bored, rich, unstable girl with everything she needed, and a husband she wanted dead. The affair was over. But the long slide into deception and violence had just begun.||Adapted as the 1988 film AN AFFAIR IN MIND, starring Amanda Donohoe and Stephen Dillane. This was fairly faithful to the book, but lacked a sequence which nearly drove me out of my mind in which a dog may be dying of neglect. Also, the ending was changed, through the use of a Mac computer, which retained a copy of a document that was lost in the book.|
|1976||A DEMON IN MY VIEW||A rigid man of fifty leads a solitary, apparently respectable life, as clerk and bookkeeper for a small business and part-time rent collector for his landlord. He has rented a flat in the building for twenty years because deep in its cellar, unbeknownst to anyone else, is a mannequin that he periodically "strangles" in order to satisfy his homicidal urges. The figure's location in the cellar, the darkness, the furtiveness, all are essential to the solitary man's satisfaction. The tenuous mental equilibrium he has been able to maintain is threatened when a young man, healthy in mind and body, a doctoral candidate in psychology, becomes a roomer in the house. Danger the older man senses from the moment the new tenant appears is horribly realized for him when the young man finds the mannequin and uses it as the figure in the bonfire at the Guy Fawkes Night celebration he has organized for the local children. The respectable fifty-year-old now must go back to the streets to find flesh more yielding than a mannequin's.||Adapted as the 1991 German film DER MANN NEBENAN, starring Anthony Perkins. |
|1977||A JUDGEMENT IN STONE||Eunice is taken on as a housekeeper by a family of four. She has kept her illiteracy a secret and is obsessed by continuing to keep it so. Unknown to her new employers, she has already murdered the father for whom she had been caring, and has falsified her references. Her inability to adapt to her place in society is masked by the cunning with which she conceals the truth about herself. Misinterpreting every act of kindness she is offered by her employers, she eventually turns on them, stealing the guns that are normally kept locked away. With the aid of a fellow social misfit, she murders the entire family. But Eunice's illiteracy prevents her from recognizing and disposing of a written clue that was left behind. Eventually a tape recording of the shooting made by one of the victims is discovered. Eunice is charged with the crime, and is mortified when her illiteracy is revealed to the world during the court proceedings.||Adapted as the 1986 film with Rita Tushingham and the 1995 Claude Chabrol film LA CEREMONIE, starring Isabelle Huppert and Jacqueline Bisset. I found both of these dramatizations not faithful to the book and more violent than the book. Although they do contain many incidents from the book, and the two filmed versions are very similar to each other, they both completely miss the point (in my opinion) which is that this is a crime that would not have happened if the murderer were not illiterate. This is only peripheral to the films, but integral to the book and brilliantly presented.|
|1979||MAKE DEATH LOVE ME||Rendell just keeps getting better and better. A Judgment in Stone (1977) was a tour de force in her crime-from-the-criminal-point-of-view mode. A Sleeping Life (1978) brought back Inspector Wexford at his best. And now, without losing an iota of the understated, unsentimental crispness that is her trademark, she expands slightly beyond the mystery/crime genre: this new story has a double plot a bit reminiscent of Victor Canning, and it exudes a warmth rarely found in Rendell-land. The launchpad for both plot lines is a pathetic bank robbery in a Suffolk village. The two young misfits who rob the bank at lunchtime do get away with 4000 pounds, but they must also take with them homely, busty teller Joyce--who has seen their faces. (Their stocking masks get drenched in the rain.) While the panicky robbers and surly prisoner Joyce set up an impossible, awful, sexless menage a trois in a seedy London suburb, someone else is, on the other hand, enjoying himself: bank-manager Alan Groombridge, unhappily married and a bookish daydreamer, was watching the robbery while hiding in a closet (fondling 3000 pounds in bank cash as was his wont), and he has grabbed the opportunity to run away to London with his small fortune--the police, et al., believe him to have been kidnapped along with Joyce. So Rendell cuts back and forth from the increasingly grim state of affairs at the robbers' flat (one of them is coming clown with hepatitis, the other's gone round the bend) to Alan's rebirth in the nicest neighborhoods in London--new name, new home, and miraculous new love. But. . . Alan feels guilty about running away, about not helping the police to find poor kidnapped Joyce--so when he accidentally stumbles on the trail of the robbers, he must follow that trail and try to locate Joyce himself. The dark comedy and bright romance here quickly shift to taut drama and tragedy--but Rendell supports every jolt of suspense with dazzling shorthand characterization and detail-perfect atmosphere. A can't-stop-reading, humanized melodrama that could also be, in the right hands, the makings of a gem of a movie.||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
|1980||THE LAKE OF DARKNESS||Martin Urban is a quiet bachelor with a comfortable life, free of worry and distractions. When he unexpectedly comes into a small fortune, he decides to use his newfound wealth to help out those in need. Finn also leads a quiet life, and comes into a little money of his own. Normally, their paths would never have crossed. But Martin’s ideas about who should benefit from his charitable impulses yield some unexpected results, and soon the good intentions of the one become fatally entangled with the mercenary nature of the other. In the Lake of Darkness, Ruth Rendell takes the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished to a startling, haunting conclusion.||Adapted as the 1988 episode DEAD LUCKY of the 163-part TV series SCREEN TWO with Phil Davis; as well as a 1999 episode with Cal MacAninch of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES. Here at last, with the 1988 version is an almost perfect representation of the novel. Phil Davis so embodies the professional hitman and even tiny touches most adapters would leave out, such as a naked wrestling dream, are included. This may be the best ever Rendell film and it should be more readily available. I have recently rewatched the 1999 version, and find it pretty faithful, although without the film noir feel of the earlier version.|
|1982||MASTER OF THE MOOR||Columnist Stephen Walby, known as the Voice of Vangmoor, often goes on long walks through the countryside that lies outside his window. However, events take on a sinister turn when he stumbles across the body of a young woman, whose face has been badly disfigured and her hair shaven. After another corpse surfaces he finds himself under suspicion from the local police, and when he then goes on to discover that his wife has been having an affair, tragedy ensues.||Adapted as a 3-part 1994 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES, starring Colin Firth and George Costigan. While this was well acted, it was so changed from the novel, one character even being killed who survived in the book, that I was unable to enjoy it.|
|1984||THE KILLING DOLL||The winter before he was sixteen, amateur magician Pup made a Faustian pact and sold his soul to the devil. He wasn't quite sure what he was going to get in exchange. Pup's older sister, Dolly, is manically obsessed with her birthmark, believing it is responsible for her status as a social outcast. She becomes pathologically transfixed by Pup's dabbling in magic, desperate to believe he has occult powers that can cure her disfigurement, improve their lives, and kill their stepmother. As Dolly's obsession grows, a young mentally disturbed Irishman lurks just around the corner, inseparable from his sharpened set of knives...In this intense and deeply disturbing novel, Ruth Rendell explores a haunted world of obsession, delusions and murderous fantasy, with dazzling virtuosity.||No film adaptation I have been able to discover; this is a gem that contains a sequence that a Hitchcock or DePalma could have brought audiences to the edge of their seats when the protagonist tries to push a victim off a crowded subway platform.|
|1984||THE TREE OF HANDS||Mrs. Archdale, who is recovering from mental illness, visits her daughter Benet, a young, successful London author, and grandson James. Across town, Barry Mahon devotes himself to pleasing Carol Stratford, who has a slew of other boyfriends and takes care of her neglected son Jason. When Jason is kidnapped, the police accuse Barry of the crime. More tragedies occur after Mrs. Archdale commits a deranged act, which establishes a connection between Benet and Carol. The ending of this ""major triumph'' leaves the reader ``breathless,'' PW noted. ||Adapted as the 1989 film INNOCENT VICTIM, starring Helen Shaver, Lauren Bacall and Peter Firth; as well as the 2001 French film ALIAS BETTY (a/k/a BETTY FISHER ET AUTRES HISTOIRES.|
|1986||LIVE FLESH||Victor Jenner is a sociopath. After ten years in prison for shooting - and permanently crippling - a young policeman, Victor is released to a strange new world and told to make a new life for himself. It's hard to adjust to civilian life, but at least there's one blessing - he was never convicted for all those rapes he committed. Then Victor meets David, the policeman he shot, and David's beautiful girlfriend, Clare. And suddenly Victor's new life is starting to look an awful lot like the old one.||Freely adapted as the 1997 Almodovar film, starring Javier Bardem. I found this a particularly unfaithful version, which retained only the central idea of a cop being shot and the criminal engaging in a love triangle with the cop's wife after the criminal gets out of prison. The locale was changed to Madrid, losing the very Britishness that is so much an enjoyable part of Rendell's works, and the social phobia which afflicted the central character, so important in the book, was omitted in the film.|
|1987||HEARTSTONES||Sixteen-year-old Elvira's mother is dead. Elvira is sad, of course, but not so sad as her younger sister Spinny. Spinny is afraid their father, Luke, will be heartbroken, but Elvira knows better -- after all, Luke has her to take her mother's place. But then Luke brings home a pretty young woman and introduces her as his fiancee, and Elvira decides that she will stop at nothing to stop her father's marriage .||Adapted as a 1996 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES, starring Anthony Andrews and Elspet Gray.|
|1987||TALKING TO STRANGE MEN||Safe houses and secret message drops, double crosses and defections - it sounds like the stuff of sophisticated espionage, but the agents are only schoolboys engaged in harmless play, unaware of the danger awaiting them if their messages were intercepted...|
John Creevey doesn't know the truth behind the mysterious codes he is reading. To him, the messages he decodes with painstaking care are the communications of dangerous and evil men. As he comes face to face with the reality of his beloved wife Jennifer's defection, he begins to see a way to get back at the man she left him for, a man with a disturbing connection to schoolboys...
And soon the schoolboys are playing more than just a game.
|Adapted as a 1992 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES. This was fairly faithful to the book, but missed out on the genuine creepiness of the ending, where you fear for the life and innocence of a young boy, who is put in close contact with a pedophile. |
|1989||THE BRIDESMAID||A young man fearful of violence, an extravagantly eccentric young woman and three deaths figure in this atmospheric but insubstantial mystery from one of England's finest horror/suspense writers. Philip Wardman, beginning his career as an interior designer, lives with his widowed mother and two sisters in a small house outside London. At his sister Fee's wedding, Philip meets Senta Pelham, cousin to the groom and a bridesmaid, with whom he falls quickly into bed and in love. Soon Senta, with her silver-dyed hair and exotic ways, tells Philip they must prove the unconventionality of their love: each must commit a murder. Secretly appalled, Philip demurs, but Senta is adamant and soon he tells her that a recent killing mentioned in the newspaper was done at his hand. When Senta files her own report, Philip is much relieved, believing through a series of misunderstandings that she too has laid false claims to murder. The reality of Senta's imbalance is gradually revealed, however, and the police appear on the scene just as she unveils her grisly history. While Rendell depicts her characters with crystal clarity and renders Philip's sexual obsessiveness convincingly, the plot, woven of flimsy circumstances, doesn't hold up. ||Adapted as a 2004 Claude Chabrol film entitled LA DEMOISELLE D'HONNEUR. As with LIVE FLESH, Senta's character has agoraphobia, which is completely missing from the film, and is depicted none too accurately in the book as well.|
|1990||GOING WRONG||Rendell ( The Bridesmaid ) is near the top of her form in this icy, arresting tale of obsessive love. As a 14-year-old scuffling his way up in the London drug and protection rackets, Guy Curran fell for Leonora Chisholm, a girl from a gentler, upper-crust home. Guy, who stopped dealing drugs after a customer took LSD and died, now makes a bundle off paintings of frolicking kittens and teary-eyed children; Leo is content to live in politically correct semi-squalor with two female friends Guy detests. Every Saturday the childhood sweethearts--now in their 20s--lunch together, every day Guy calls and nearly every minute he spins out elaborate fantasies about their love. He blames Leo's close-knit family and viperish friends for turning her against him. In an increasingly deranged, confused state exacerbated by Leo's impending marriage and a river of alcohol, Guy points a triggerman at first one member of her family, then the next. Rendell is a master of depicting the long, slow slide into madness, making each tiny step toward the abyss resound with chilling logic. Readers will see the final wind-up punch coming, but the irony is no less delicious for that.||Adapted as a 1998 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1993||THE CROCODILE BIRD||Like a modern-day Scheherazade, young Liza Beck tells her story over a span of nights and in the process finds salvation. After the police question her mother, Eve, about the death of Jonathan Tobias, the owner of Shrove House, 16-year-old Liza runs away with Sean, the young garden hand at the remote English manor. It is to him, over the course of 101 nights, that Liza gradually reveals her strange upbringing, living alone with Eve in the gatehouse of the Tobias estate. Rigorously schooled by her mother, isolated from all society except, on occasion, the mailman or groundskeeper and the few men, including Tobias, whom Eve admits into their world, Liza learns early that others may have something to fear from Eve, but that she does not. Credibility never flags as Edgar Award-winning Rendell ( Kissing the Gunner's Daughter ) reveals the specifics of Liza's increasing contact with the world, creating suspense in the gradually meted out details of Eve's intense attachment to Shrove House and her determination to protect Liza from civilization. Although unpredictable, the payoff seems a little weak and the careful pace somewhat slow; nevertheless, there are no holes in this psychological puzzler that has a strong afterlife. ||No film adaptation I have been able to discover. This is another Rendell story about a woman who develops agoraphobia after a rape.|
|1996||THE KEYS TO THE STREET||In a story that commands--and fully rewards--intense engagement from its readers, Rendell (The Crocodile Bird; Simisola) once again proves an astute, intense observer of physical and psychological detail, demonstrating that we are surrounded by people we don't see and fail to appreciate the ways in which intimates and strangers are connected to us. Housesitting in a posh home near London's Regent's Park lets Mary Jago separate from her abusive and persistent lover, whose behavior has worsened since she decided to donate bone marrow to save the life of an anonymous recipient. When she meets Leo Nash, the marrow recipient, she enters a heady courtship with the stranger whose very being is now linked to hers. While she does notice Bean, the strange little man who works as a dog walker and behaves like a "superior upper servant'' in an old film, and she cheerfully finds kind words for Roman Ashton, one of the area's many "dossers,'' or street people, Mary little suspects how complex their histories are, what their fears and schemes might be or what they notice in return. Likewise, she is sheltered from the fears of the area's homeless as one after another is killed and then impaled on the spikes of park railings. When a crack is exposed in the edifice of Mary's new and happy life, the death lurking beneath it may be something else she never fully comprehends. With this meticulously crafted work, Rendell reminds us how complex, interconnected and fragile modern life is.||As of 2016, this is in preproduction as a film from director Julius Sevcík from a script by Michael Stokes.|
|1998||A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES||A pair of English teens, Teddy and Francine (who have grown up in dysfunctional families where common parenting faults are taken to extremes), meet and think that in each other they might find the beauty and freedom their own lives are lacking. Their troubled affair takes a while to get going, but once it does, Rendell's sharp characterizations and idiosyncratic descriptions are riveting. Though several deaths occur in the book, the only real mystery is that of the murder of Francine's mother, which Francine overheard (near the novel's beginning) when she was seven. Instead, Rendell (Road Rage, etc.) focuses more on how a few sedately bizarre ticks can build exponentially into insanity. Francine's stepmother, for example, progresses from simple worry about her stepdaughter's well-being to obsessive anxiety that borders on dementia. Rendell follows the story's principal objects as closely as she does its characters: the diamond and sapphire engagement ring that Teddy's indifferent mother finds in a public bathroom; the video case in which Francine's mother hid her love letters, the painting of two young lovers that shows Teddy the perfect beauty he would kill for. Rendell leaves nothing and no one unaccounted for, from the looks given by the neighbors over the fence to the idle thoughts that pass through characters' minds when they scan a room. A tour-de-force of psychological suspense, the novel culminates in a dramatic climax that's as unforgettable as what has preceded it.||Adapted as 2003 French film, INQUIETUDES, I had such high hopes for this, as it had great scope to be a really chilling suspense film, but all those aspects were missed or squandered. The idea of riding around in an old Edsel with your murdered uncle in the trunk could have been quite creepy, but nothing was made of it; and the horror of the realization you have fallen into a pit and no one knows you are there; you have cemented the access to it yourself, and so you know you will gradually die of starvation, accompanied by the rotting corpses of people you've murdered---so much could have been made of this, and zilch in the film.|
|2001||ADAM AND EVE AND PINCH ME||This latest gem from the British master concerns the wreckage wrought on a variety of Londoners by a womanizing con man who speaks in rhymes. Here, as in A Sight for Sore Eyes (1999), Rendell's genius is to create characters so vivid they live beyond the frame of the novel. She pushes the ordinary to the point of the bizarre while remaining consistently believable. Araminta "Minty" Knox, the fragile center of the plot, is a 30-something woman, alone and obsessed with hygiene, who works in a dry-cleaning shop. All the world is a petri dish for Minty, who sees germs everywhere, which she attacks with Wright's Coal Tar Soap. She is equally tormented by the ghosts she imagines, her domineering "Auntie" and the man who took her virginity. Other characters hover on the borderline between transformation and disaster. Tory MP "Jims" Melcombe-Smith, in bed politically with the "family values" crowd, is simultaneously courting a gay lover. Working-class Zillah Leach, bored with her small children and smaller bank account, schemes to marry up, even at the risk of committing bigamy. This is not a whodunit in the sense of Rendell's Inspector Wexford novels, but a study of crime's origins and especially its consequences as they ripple out beyond the immediate victims. The plot is intricate but brisk, and Rendell nails her characters' psychology in all its perverse logic. She has a travel writer's sensitivity to setting, to the architecture, cemeteries, birds and vegetation of contemporary Britain. This is a literary page-turner, both elegant and accessible. ||No film adaptation I have been able to discover; this is another gem with an intricately woven tapestry of characters affected by a murder; the potential for showing one character's descent into madness could make this a very compelling film.|
|2003||THE ROTTWEILER||The latest victim in a series of apparently motiveless murders is found near Inez Ferry's antique shop in Marylebone. Someone saw a shadowy figure running away, but the only other clues are that the murderer usually strangles his victim and removes something personal, like a cigarette lighter or a necklace…. The activities of the sinister "Rottweiler" will exert a profound influence on the lives of a small group of people, especially when the suspicion emerges that one of them may be a homicidal maniac.||No film adaptation I have been able to discover, although the title exists already and no doubt the film would have to be retitled. This is another gem with yet another intricately woven tapestry of characters affected by a series of murders. |
|2004||THIRTEEN STEPS DOWN||British veteran Rendell (The Rottweiler ) delivers the best novel she's written in years, featuring elderly Gwendolen Chawcer and her younger tenant-in-the-attic, "Mix" Cellini. The unlikely housemates share St. Blaise House, Chawcer's rotting London mansion, full of many generations of dead insects and past dreams of upper-middle-class glory. Both Chawcer and Cellini are looking for love in all the wrong places. Boozy, delusional Cellini—who earns his keep fixing fitness equipment and is a "fan" of real-life murderer Harold Christie—obsesses about supermodel Nerissa Nash. He'll do anything to snag her attention and assume his "rightful" place as her husband. The Miss Havisham–like Chawcer pines for Dr. Stephen Reeves, whom she last saw when he attended her dying mother in 1953. Cellini spins out of control first, killing a clingy, "unworthy" date, then hiding her beneath the floorboards in his apartment. Rendell exhibits all her trademark virtues: vivid characters, a plot addictive as crack and a sense of place unequaled in crime fiction. ||Adapted as a 2012 film, starring Luke Treadaway and Geraldine James. This is another adaptation that missed the mark as far as generating any frissons during a murder, the creepiness of a body hidden under the floor, and the subsequent "haunting" of the killer by what he thinks is the ghost of a famous mass murderer Christie.|
|2006||THE WATER'S LOVELY||Three-time Edgar Award–winner Rendell (13 Steps Down ) often creates fragile characters, trembling on the edge of losing a lover, child, job, solvency or sanity. Slashing through their world is a “wild card,” an obsessive or a sociopath too focused on personal gain to be concerned with damage to others. The vulnerable people at the heart of this taut and enticing stand-alone are the Sealand family, particularly Heather, who's assumed to have drowned her unsavory stepfather, Guy, in the bath while he was weak with illness. A veritable pack of wild cards—including Marion Melville, who cozies up to the lonely and aged in hopes of inheriting their estates after she's poisoned them, and Marion's Dumpster-diving brother, Fowler—keeps everyone off guard. Rendell enlivens the tale with subplots involving various romances—ardent and desperate—and a killer who lurks in London's parks, as well as with pithy comments about class, technology, generational conflict, food and aesthetics. The plot twists in this electrifying read reach all the way to the last page. ||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
|2006||THE THIEF||Rendell 6/5/12 to PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY: I have written one little novella, The Thief, for the Quick Reads series that is designed for grownups who have just learned to read. They have words of one or two syllables, short sentences, and short paragraphs.|
Stealing things from people who had upset her was something Polly did quite a lot. There was her Aunt Pauline; a girl at school; a boyfriend who left her. And there was the man on the plane . Humiliated and scared, by a total stranger, Polly does what she always does. She steals something. But she never could have imagined that her desire for revenge would have such terrifying results.
|No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
|2008||PORTOBELLO||Walking to the shops one day, fifty-year-old Eugene Wren discovers an envelope on the street bulging with cash. A man plagued by a shameful addiction—and his own good intentions—Wren hatches a plan to find the money’s rightful owner. Instead of going to the police, or taking the cash for himself, he prints a notice and posts it around Portobello Road. This ill-conceived act creates a chain of events that links Wren to other Londoners—people afflicted with their own obsessions and despairs. As these volatile characters come into Wren’s life—and the life of his trusting fiancée—the consequences will change them all. Portobello is a wonderfully complex tour de force featuring a dazzling depiction of one of London’s most intriguing neighborhoods—and the dangers beneath its newly posh veneer.||No film adaptation I have been able to discover, although the title exists already, and perhaps the film would have to be retitled. This is another gem with yet another intricately woven tapestry of characters affected by a crime.|
|2010||TIGERLILY'S ORCHIDS||When Stuart Font decides to throw a house-warming party in his new flat, he invites all the people in his building and, after some deliberation, even includes the unpleasant caretaker and his wife. They are a disparate group of people, each with their individual Rendellian psychoses and potential for violence. There are a few other genuine friends on the list, but he definitely does not want to include his girlfriend, Claudia, as that might involve asking her husband. The party will be one everyone remembers. But not for the right reasons. Living opposite, in reclusive isolation, is a beautiful young Asian woman, christened Tigerlily by Stuart. As though from some strange urban fairy tale, she emerges to exert a terrible spell on Stuart and his guests. Mr and Mrs Font, the worried parents, will soon have even more cause for concern about their handsome but hopelessly naive son. Darkly humorous and piercingly observant of human behavior, Ruth Rendell has created another compelling fable of our lives and crimes.||Adapted as the 2014 French film VALENTIN VALENTIN. |
|2012||THE ST. ZITA SOCIETY||A gardener believes he’s hearing the voice of God on his cellphone. A chauffeur is bedding his employer’s wife and daughter. A sexual affair is morphing into murder. And the help of a London street, Hexam Place, meet to drink and grouse at a nearby pub as they inaugurate what they call the St. Zita Society—a kind of freewheeling union named after the holy patron of servants. In Hexam Place live Montserrat, the insolent au pair to the haughty Stills family, and the Stills’ nanny, Rabia, who’s besotted with the little boy she tends. Here, too, are the 82-year-old Princess Susan Hapsburg and her tenant/companion, the resentful June. In this neighborhood, children wear Chanel sneakers, but get little love, and champagne is known as “The Drink That Is Never Wrong.” This novel radiates tension, sweeping along as the clandestine gets exposed, and a killer and an accomplice brainstorm about stashing a body. Rendell creates characters that seem to forsake the page of a Kindle or a Nook, and live beyond the borders of her novels: readers wonder how they’re faring in prison or in mourning. While delineating a dozen or so characters, Rendell makes each sufficiently viable to intrigue her audience and clash with one another. She is equally artful when evoking her settings, be it this gilded urban enclave, Inspector Wexford’s Kingsmarkham, a commune in a country house in A Fatal Inversion, or the unspecified seaport in Talking to Strange Men. As Britain has changed—in terms of diversity, technology, slang, fashion, and even take-out food—Rendell has maintained an insightful and often satiric commentary about it all. Written under her name or as Barbara Vine, the best of her work—Going Wrong, King Solomon’s Carpet, The Keys to the Street, The Birthday Present, and this fine novel—read like vintage Evelyn Waugh or Muriel Spark, informed with a psychological subtlety worthy of Iris Murdoch. One-quarter through this book, one man calls Monserrat a psychopomp, “a conductor of souls to hell.” Indeed, Rendell has functioned as a kind of psychopomp, conducting her fictional killers to hell—while ensuring that her readers enjoy the trip. More Americans ought to book a passage. ||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
|2014||THE GIRL NEXT DOOR||In this assured novel of psychological suspense from Diamond Dagger Award–winner Rendell (The St. Zita Society), a gruesome discovery jolts a group of friends and acquaintances who grew up outside London during WWII. Two people’s hands—severed and interred inside a cookie tin—are unearthed at a former construction site where they once hid and schemed. At the center of the now aged clique is the “girl next door,” Daphne Jones, ever envied and admired. John “Woody” Winwood, a man whose wife went missing with her lover during the turmoil of the blitzkrieg, is a malevolent presence, past and present, in the story. In contemporary Britain, Winwood’s son, Michael, must face his nonagenerian father, who abandoned him decades before and then married into money, inheriting a fortune from his subsequent wives. Rendell keeps the plot and the home fires burning, and the most memorable characters, Daphne and Woody, cast sufficient light to brighten their somewhat dull companions. ||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
|2015||DARK CORNERS||MWA Grand Master Rendell (1930–2015) often explored the lives of the luckless who are dogged by disastrous coincidence. In this, her final book, writer Carl Martin is one such hapless fellow. Carl inherits a choice townhouse in London's chic Maida Vale neighborhood. He's cash-poor while pounding out his second novel, so he rents the upper floor to a predatory tenant, Dermot McKinnon. A pious icicle, Dermot believes that Carl's stock of homeopathic medicines may have figured in the death of a friend of Carl's, 24-year-old TV actress Stacey Warren. Soon, Carl is fending off two blackmailers. As always in Rendell's work, the thoughtless and obtuse sow chaos for the careful and sensitive, and London shines as a strong presence. This is a beguiling, powerful novel, made poignant by the staggering realization that this is the last of a feast of characters and narratives. Everything that makes Rendell's work so memorable—gothic but believable people and plots, simple yet vivid prose, peerlessly rendered settings, and fear and despair as the twin "parents" of violence—is in evidence here. Readers may sigh along with one of the characters, when, in the last sentence, he remarks, "And now, now it's all over." ||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
Click here for more information on Rendell's psychological thrillers.
CHIEF INSPECTOR WEXFORD NOVELS
|George Baker portrayed Det. Chief Insp. Reg Wexford and |
Christopher Ravenscroft played Det. Insp. Mike Burden
|1964||FROM DOON WITH DEATH||Margaret Parsons was a shy, unexceptional woman who lived a Spartan existence with her dour husband in a decrepit Victorian house. So why was she murdered in such a vicious and passionate attack? A search of the Parsons’ attic uncovers a collection of expensive books – all dedicated to Minna and signed with love from Doon. Wexford’s search to uncover the identity of the mysterious Doon takes him back to Margaret’s school days and her friendship with a group of girls who have now all become successful figures in Kingsmarkham society||Adapted as a 2-part 1991 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES. |
|1967||WOLF TO THE SLAUGHTER||Rupert Margolis, a rising star in the art world and Kingsmarkham resident, reports the disappearance of his wealthy socialite sister. An anonymous note leads Wexford to believe that she has been murdered by a mysterious “Mr. Smith”. Rendell misleads readers into believing X has been killed, when it's really Y.||Adapted as a 4-part 1987 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1967||A NEW LEASE OF DEATH||Thirty years ago, Herbert Painter was hanged for the brutal murder of his ninety-year-old employer. The chief investigating officer was Reg Wexford, then a young detective sergeant in charge of his first murder case. Now, thirty years later, the Reverend Henry Archery—a friend of the Chief Constable—arrives in Kingsmarkham determined to prove that Painter was innocent||Adapted as a 3-part 1991 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1969||THE BEST MAN TO DIE||A man is murdered on the eve of his best friend’s wedding and a young woman is found dead at the scene of a fatal road accident in which a wealthy businessman is also killed. Wexford and Burden discover a possible connection between the deaths in this tale of adultery, blackmail and greed. Wexford gets stuck for 2 hours in the police department's new elevator.||Adapted as a 3-part 1990 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1970||A GUILTY THING SURPRISED||Quentin Nightingale—the owner of Myfleet Manor—and his beautiful wife Elizabeth, appeared to be a golden couple with many friends and few enemies. But when Elizabeth is murdered, Wexford and Burden uncover dark family secrets and discover that the key to solving the crime is held within the life of a great poet.||Adapted as a 3-part 1988 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1971||NO MORE DYING THEN||An unsolved case —the disappearance of ten year old Stella Rivers—still haunts DCI Wexford. Then, one year later, another child goes missing. Wexford’s investigations are further complicated by concerns for Inspector Mike Burden who is still grieving the death of his much loved wife Jean. Burden begins an affair with the missing child’s mother that threatens to jeopardize both the case and his career.||Adapted as a 3-part 1989 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1972||MURDER BEING ONCE DONE||Reg Wexford is recuperating from a thrombosis in London. His nephew, Howard Fortune is the chief superintendent of the local police. He becomes informally involved in investigating the murder of a young woman found strangled in a London cemetery vault.||Adapted as a 3-part 1991 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1973||SOME LIE AND SOME DIE||John Burden’s hero, the rock star Zeno, comes to Kingsmarkham to perform at the Sunday’s Festival. The event passes peacefully until a young woman is found murdered. Why was the dead girl wearing someone else’s clothes? And could a secret relationship have led to her death?||Adapted as a 3-part 1990 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1975||SHAKE HANDS FOREVER||Wexford knows who killed Angela Hathall but a lack of tangible evidence leaves the Chief Inspector open to accusations of harassment when he pursues the suspect. Undeterred, he embarks on his own, unofficial investigation, desperate to find the proof he needs before the murderer escapes justice.||Adapted as a 3-part 1988 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1978||A SLEEPING LIFE||The body of Rhoda Comfrey is found on a lonely canal path. Subsequent investigations reveal very little about the dead woman or her life. The only clue is a wallet belonging to historical novelist Grenville West that leads Wexford firstly to London, and then to France.||Adapted as a 3-part 1989 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1979||ACHILLES HEEL||Based on a short story published in MEANS OF EVIL: Wexford and Burden are holidaying with their wives on Corsica when they encounter a charismatic young couple: Philip and Iris Blackstock. Wexford cuts his holiday short when Iris disappears and Philip receives a ransom note from someone claiming to be her kidnapper.||Adapted as a 1991 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1981||DEATH NOTES||Sir Manuel Camargue, the celebrated flautist, is discovered drowned in the grounds of his country estate. The death is believed to be a tragic accident but Wexford’s suspicions are aroused when Sir Manuel’s young fiancée claims that his estranged daughter—Natalie, who returned from Los Angeles to see her father shortly before his death—is an impostor||Adapted as a 1990 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES but retitled PUT ON BY CUNNING.|
|1983||SPEAKER OF MANDARIN||Chief Superintendent Howard Fortune sends his Uncle Reg on an official police visit to China. On his return to England, the Chief Inspector is called to the scene of a murder—a local woman—whom he met in China has been found shot in her own home. The killing forces Wexford to relive his experiences in China and eventually the memory of one particular event helps solve the case||Adapted as a 3-part 1992 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES. |
|1985||AN UNKINDNESS OF RAVENS||DCI Wexford believes that the disappearance of Rodney Williams is a simple case of a husband who has run off with another woman. But when his body is discovered, buried in a wood, investigations reveal the victim’s amazing double life.||Adapted as a 2-part 1990 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1986||SINS OF THE FATHERS||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
|1988||GINGER AND THE KINGSMARKHAM CHALK CIRCLE||Christmas in Kingsmarkham and the festivities become a nightmare for one young mother when her baby is taken from its pram… and another is left in its place. Meanwhile, Wexford is having trouble bonding with his first grandchild and a spate of burglaries threaten to ruin Christmas completely.||This was a short story adapted as an episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES under the title NO CRYING HE MAKES.|
|1988||THE VEILED ONE||Sheila Wexford is arrested for cutting through wire on a nuclear missile base, Wexford narrowly escapes death in a car bomb attack and Inspector Burden has to take over the case of a woman found garroted in a Kingsmarkham car park.||Adapted as a 1980 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1991||AN UNWANTED WOMAN||Adapted from a short story of the same name from the collection THE COPPER PEACOCK. Myland Castle has stood for more than 900 years. Now someone—or something—is maliciously pushing cyclists as they ride along the path close to the castle walls. When one of the victims dies, Wexford employs Sgt Martin as bait to catch the killer. Meanwhile, in nearby Castle Road, ninety–two–year-old Ivy Wrangton dies of apparently natural causes. However, district nurse Judith Radcliffe has her doubts. She tells Wexford that she has an instinct for death and that—despite her age—there was ‘no sign of death in Ivy Wrangton’||Adapted as a 2-part 1992 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1992||KISSING THE GUNNER'S DAUGHTER||Four years after The Veiled One , Rendell's Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford returns in a superbly characterized, deftly plotted puzzler that explores the dark side of family life. A dinner-hour call for help brings Wexford and his assistants to Tancred House, where, in a chilling scene of carnage, he finds popular anthropologist and novelist Davina Flory, her husband, daughter and teenage granddaughter bleeding profusely from bullet wounds. Only young Daisy, who made the call, is alive. As she recovers, celebrates her 18th birthday and, in a willful, winning way, resumes living at Tancred House, Wexford tries to trace the two killers, who stole Davina's jewels as well. His investigation focuses first on the servants--a bitter couple whom Daisy soon dismisses, a handsome caretaker and a slow-witted neighborhood woman who later discovers the body of a local man, a petty blackmailer, hanging from a tree. While methodically seeking clues on the vast grounds of Tancred House and in nearby Kingsmarkham, Wexford is drawn to the plucky survivor, even as he grieves over his estrangement from his daughter Sheila, who is in love with an insufferable young novelist. For all the suspenseful pleasures of the plot, which includes arson and another murder, it's Rendell's characters, major and minor, who are standouts. This is among the very best from the accomplished, prolific author of The Veiled One and The Bridesmaid. ||Adapted as a 2-part 1992 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1995||MOUSE IN THE CORNER||Tom Peterlee, a member of a large family who live in three adjoining cottages, is murdered. Eva, his mother is quite cavalier in reaction to his death in Wexford's opinion and other family members are no more helpful. Heather, his widow, seems dumb with grief and his brother and meek sister-in-law are similarly evasive. Family friend Carol is more forthcoming, providing Heather with an alibi, but Wexford is sure one of the Peterlees is a killer. Burden has problems of his own when his daughter starts dating a married man and a series of ram-raids in Kingsmarkham add to Wexford's problems.||Adapted by George Baker from a short story in BLOOD LINES as a 1992 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1995||SIMISOLA||In her 17th mystery starring Chief Inspector Wexford (after Kissing the Gunner's Daughter), Rendell casts a decidedly baleful eye on changes in the Sussex country town of Kingsmarkham and its people-the appearance of slums, the rise of decidedly fascistic attitudes and growing unemployment and hopelessness among the young. Against this dour backdrop, Raymond Akande, a thriving black doctor, comes to Wexford with a problem: his 22-year-old daughter has disappeared. Wexford, as patient and friend (a somewhat uneasy friend, because a ``decent'' Englishman of his generation cannot quite get used to blacks), feels bound to help. He uncovers a dark train of events: a girl who was apparently the last to see Melanie Akande alive is strangled; the body of another young black woman is found buried in the woods; and a sturdy Nigerian crossing guard is pushed down the stairs in her apartment block. Meanwhile, a flashy Arab lady running for the local council seems to be attempting to ensnare Wexford, and there is a mystery concerning one of her Filipino servants. The events are put together so methodically and believably, while the drawing of character and setting is so exact, that the book seems at times like a contemporary Middlemarch with a murder mystery at the heart of it. The solution is truly astonishing yet as logical as the rest of this splendid, passionately fair-minded and deeply disturbing novel-in which Rendell surpasses even herself.||Adapted as a 3-part 1996 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1997||ROAD RAGE||The latest Inspector Wexford tale (following Simisola, 1995) from the redoubtable Rendell has a spectacularly unexpected twist. His wife, Dora, usually a sensible but taken-for-granted background decoration, moves to center stage as a kidnap victim. It's all part of a plot by aggressive defenders of the English landscape to forestall a planned bypass (read superhighway) through some of the lovelier scenery around Kingsmarkham, Wexford's stomping ground. These terrorists on behalf of nature take a group of hostages (Dora being accidentally among them) and threaten to kill them one by one unless their demands to end highway construction are met. Wexford is not stayed from pursuing the villains with his customary thoughtful vigor, but Dora's involvement gives him a whole new perspective on her importance in his life, and his anguish is made extremely moving. It is as human drama rather than conventional mystery that Rendell's books usually excel anyway, and this is no exception. The machinations of the highway saboteurs may be a bit hard to swallow, and the plot is wound up with a rather mechanical adroitness; but such eternal questions as enduring marital affection and love of the English countryside are the engines that make this Wexford outing move in Rendell's usual absorbing way. ||Adapted as a 2-part 1998 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES. My friend Nigel Pegram has a small role in this!|
|.1999||HARM DONE||In her latest Inspector Wexford mystery (following Road Rage), the prolific Rendell shows that, like Wexford, she too is a master of indirection. Like a stout, aging British Columbo, Wexford hides his intuition and keen powers of observation behind a rumpled, grandfatherly facade. Three of the cases that he unravels in this satisfyingly complex work have to do with the abuse of women or children. The crimes range from the ridiculous (a petulant university girl and a mentally challenged girl from a low-income housing project are each kidnapped to do housework and returned for ineptitude) to the monstrous (Wexford and his men must protect a child molester who was released from prison while a rich man tortures his wife in the comfort of his spacious home). Rendell is too realistic a writer to link her crimes together in a sensational way. Instead, each offense galvanizes a slew of colorful characters of all classes who live in the suburban community of Kingsmarkham. Wexford's daughter Sylvia, a strident volunteer for a battered women's shelter, fills in her father on the signs of abuse and abusers, and it is a measure of Rendell's subtle skill that she manages to address a social blight without ever losing track of her plot or flattening her characterizations. Thanks to Rendell's steadfast devotion to what is real over what is mere theory, what comes through in her 47th book is the unique human mystery at the heart of a crime.||Adapted as the last episode in 2000 of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
||BABES IN THE WOOD
||Wexford fans may be disappointed by the shortage of memorable characters in Rendell's latest mystery to feature the chief inspector, a solid, if not spectacular, entry in the series. As in her previous Wexford, Harm Done (1999), the author explores issues of spousal abuse and focuses on a troubled married couple. The children of Katrina and Roger Dale disappear just as the city of Kingsmarkham is inundated with a flood of quasi-Biblical proportions. Both parents' reactions are somewhat bizarre, with Roger curiously antsy to be done with police questioning to get back to his job and Katrina quite certain her children have already drowned. When the children's babysitter, Joanna Troy, is found dead in a car dumped into a quarry, suspicion points to some icy fundamentalists. These people, from the Church of the Good Gospel, worship at the secluded country estate of Peter Buxton, a media tycoon. Buxton and his high-maintenance wife, the fashion model Sharonne, are among the most interesting fish in this rather bland school. The story becomes progressively more interesting after a slow start, and, as always, Chief Inspector Wexford remains a comfortable companion, with taut, thoughtful and imaginative observations about small-city England and the wider world.
||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
|2005||END IN TEARS||Bestseller Rendell's riveting new novel in her Chief Inspector Wexford series (The Babes in the Wood , etc.) links two disparate worlds—a child-surrogacy ring and the construction trade. A teenage mother, Amber Marshalson, is found dead in the grass outside her home in Kingsmarkham, her skull crushed by a piece of brick. A short time later, Amber's pregnant friend, Megan Bartlow, turns up murdered in a seedy, about-to-be-rehabbed Victorian row house. Suspicions center on a tall man wearing a hooded fleece jacket. Against this sinister backdrop stands Wexford, who's in lion-in-winter mode. He's irked and perplexed by modern life, by the casual way young girls conceive babies, by the sprawl devouring the once-lush Sussex countryside, even by his own fractious family. But he never loses the anger and dedication that propel him to solve crimes and understand evil. While Rendell fans may find this not quite up to the level of her most recent non-Wexford, Thirteen Steps Down (2005), they should be well satisfied. ||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
|2007||NOT IN THE FLESH|| In bestseller Rendell's superb 21st Inspector Wexford mystery (after 2005's ""End in Tears""), the British police detective investigates first one, then two male bodies that turn up on the old Grimble property in the insular hamlet of Flagford. Who were these men? Are their deaths related? Older people fill this wise and nuanced story sleepy, bitter and disengaged since no current crime is at stake, just these two literal skeletons from the past. Among the suspects in the bizarre case are dying fantasy novelist Owen Tredown, who lives with two loopy women, Claudia and Maeve, his divorced first and second wives, in a hideous Victorian manor. Outside groups including members of the Somali community and itinerant fruit-pickers tantalize with their secrets and idiosyncrasies. The suspense persists until the book's final sentences, when the last pieces of the puzzle click elegantly yet unexpectedly into place.||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
|2009||THE MONSTER IN THE BOX||In Edgar-winner Rendell's 22nd Inspector Wexford novel (after 2007's Not in the Flesh ), the British police detective confronts a man from his past, Eric Targo, who he suspects is guilty of multiple murders. Years earlier, Targo stalked and taunted Wexford, daring him to press charges. A squat, creepy bully with a purple birthmark disfiguring his neck, Targo has graduated from smalltime thug to prosperous businessman, ensconced in a nouveau-riche spread complete with private zoo and lion in Kingsmarkham. When Targo apparently commits a murder affecting Wexford's own family, the inspector must re-examine how Targo consistently outsmarts the law. The meeting and mating of Wexford and his wife, Dora, also figure in the backward-looking action. While the reminiscing dilutes some of the suspense, Rendell easily outdistances most mystery writers with her complex characters and her poetic yet astringent style. ||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
|2011||THE VAULT||In Rendell's fine follow-up to A Sight for Sore Eyes (1999), a non-Wexford novel in which a working-class aesthete's quest for beauty earned him an ugly, unexpected end, horror strikes the home improvement plans of Martin and Anne Rokeby. The couple are seriously disconcerted to discover multiple bodies in varying states of decay in a long-forgotten vault beneath their London garden. In the art world, the Rokebys' address is famous as the setting of a '70s-era masterpiece, Marc and Harriet in Orcadia Place, a painting depicting a rock star and his girlfriend. Though Inspector Wexford has retired, the police soon summon him to help solve this most gothic case. Has more than one killer used the vault as a body dump? Rendell's recent style can feel a bit anemic when contrasted with that of A Sight for Sore Eyes, and she populates this sequel with people who resemble sketches rather than vivid, complex characters. Still, this easily outshines most of the competition on either side of the Atlantic.||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
|2013||NO MAN'S NIGHTINGALE||In Rendell’s absorbing 24th Inspector Wexford novel (after 2011’s The Vault), the Kingsmarkham, England, sleuth tries to find out who strangled the Rev. Sarah Hussain in the vicarage of St. Peter’s Church, and why. The fact that Hussain was biracial and a single mother had galvanized bigots near and far, who resented her very existence as well as her modernizing the liturgy. When Wexford’s grandson, Robin, begins dating Sarah’s daughter, Clarissa, Robin gets entangled in identifying Clarissa’s sperm-donor father—further upping the ante for Wexford. Is a white power group responsible for killing Sarah, or had a personal relationship curdled into fury? Suspects abound: the shiftless depressive Jeremy Legg; the Anglican traditionalist Dennis Cuthbert; and Gerald Watson, a stuffy old flame of the murdered woman. Wexford’s strengths as a man and as a detective are his calmness and resilience. A serene atheist, he looks to the conscience of humanity and Britain’s flawed but well-intended laws to glean whatever justice can exist today.||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
Click here for more information on Rendell's psychological thrillers.
BARBARA VINE NOVELS
|1986||A DARK ADAPTED EYE||Largely set during World War II, the story is told by Faith Severn, who at the prompting of a true-crime writer recounts her memories of her aunt, the prim, fastidious, and snobbish Vera Hillyard. Vera's life is initially centered on her beautiful younger sister, Eden, even to the exclusion of her own son, Francis, with whom she has a poor relationship. Later, Vera has a second son, Jamie, to whom she is intensely devoted, while Eden marries the scion of a wealthy family. When Eden is unable to have children with her husband, she begins to demand custody of Jamie, who she claims is being poorly raised by Vera. To the bewilderment and shock of the rest of the family, the custody battle escalates to violent levels, leading to tragedy and a series of disturbing revelations.||Adapted as a 1994 film starring Helena Bonham Carter and Celia Imrie.|
|1986||BRIMSTONE WEDDING||Jenny's marriage is loveless, and she is having an affair. She works at an old people's home, where she is especially fond of Stella, a gracious, dignified woman dying of cancer - whose own secrets parallel Jenny's - with the difference that she may have been involved in murdering her lover's husband. Both a finely crafted mystery and a disturbingly honest depiction of the kinship between love and madness, The Brimstone Wedding tells an unsettling story about the power and the poison of love.||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
|1987||A FATAL INVERSION||A Dark-Adapted Eye first novel under the pseudonym Barbara Vine by the British author Ruth Rendell won the MBA Edgar. This is the second, a mystery like all her works, transcending the genre. Evoked in beautifully ambient writing, the setting is a rural estate, Wyvis Hall, which Adam Verne-Smith inherits at age 19. Inverting the word ""someplace,'' Adam names his eden Ecalpemos where he revels through a summer with four companions. The months drift by until a horrible event scatters the lotus eaters, and Adam sells the property. For 10 years, the former friends live secure in the belief that they alone know their terrible secret. Then the present owners of Wyvis Hall dig a grave for their dog in the pet cemetery on the grounds and unearth human remains. Making headlines, the news stuns the Ecalpemos conspirators, long since established as proper London citizens. The author virtually defies one to pause between incidents in the exquisitely controlled developments that peak in a marvel of irony that no reader could foresee. ||Adapted as a 3-part 1992 film, starring Jeremy Northam.|
|1989||THE HOUSE OF STAIRS||Who is the sad, reflective narrator, and what illness might she have? What hold does the tall, dark woman called Bell have on her? And what happened at the carefully described House of Stairs in London that sent Bell to prison? PW called this mystery ``profoundly memorable.''||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
|1990||GALLOWGLASS||An emotional story of obsessive love, lust and fear. Joe is saved by Sandor, from committing suicide in front of an oncoming tube train. Sandor now demands his absolute loyalty and teaches Joe that he is now a 'gallowglass', a servant of a chief. So deep is Joe's gratitude that he helps with the kidnapping of a young wealthy married woman, Nina, that Sandor is obsessed with. His adoptive sister Tilly is also involved in the plot, which also involves the abduction of the daughter of Nina's bodyguard.||Adapted as a 3-part 1993 film, starring Paul Rhys and Michael Sheen.|
|1991||KING SOLOMON'S CARPET||Vine (the pseudonymous Ruth Rendell) offers a lyrical, leisurely paced psychological thriller that teems with deftly drawn characters who inhabit a dark world centered in the London Underground. |
|1993||ANNA'S BOOK||In an interview in PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (January 28, 2002),
Ruth talks about ANNA'S BOOK: It's called ASTA'S BOOK
in England . . . I called her Asta, but my publisher at
Harmony, an imprint of Random House, told me there were
various things that disquieted him about the name because it
was around the time Barbara Bush wrote that book about a dog .
. . [MILLIE'S BOOK] And Asta was the dog in the old THIN
MAN series. So I thought, oh, God, if everyone thinks
this is a dog's diary, that's horrible! So that's why I
changed the title. The couple in that book is not really
my grandparents, but the stories and lifestyle are authentic
From the pen of Edgar-winner Ruth Rendell's suspense-writing doppelganger Vine ( A Dark-Adapted Eye ) comes a sixth adroitly fashioned novel of insidious psychological dimensions. Anna, an uncompromising Danish wife stranded by her husband in 1905 London, slyly scribbles tales of her hateful neighbors, boorish servant and absentee spouse while awaiting the birth of a baby. Half a century later, prompted by a poison pen letter, Anna tells her favorite daughter Swanny a half-riddle about her true parentage, but refuses to reveal the whole story, which is entangled with the murder of two women and the disappearance of a toddler. After frantically searching Anna's many diaries for clues to no avail, Swanny publishes them to great acclaim; after Swanny dies, her niece Ann picks up the thread binding three generations and families and follows it to a neatly executed conclusion. Vine skillfully braids the lives of the three women, but it is Anna's voice--puckish, angry, mysterious--that commands attention as fat red herrings are dangled, then tossed. While not as taut and chilling as Vine's--or Rendell's--best books, a mordant eye and textured accounts of turn-of-the-century London lend this novel a sharp edge.
|1994||NO NIGHT IS TOO LONG||"My life is a dull one,'' says Tim Cornish, narrator of much of this compelling thriller, which delivers such a dark picture of romantic love that murder seems its natural mate. Tim's workaday life in Suffolk as secretary for a cultural organization is mere counterpoint to the hours he spends writing about the affair he had with paleontologist Ivo Steadman. He hopes to rid himself of Ivo's ghost-just as, less than two years earlier when they were on an Alaskan cruise, he rid himself of Ivo by knocking him unconscious and leaving him for dead on an uninhabited island. The two had fought when Tim declared that he had fallen in love with the mysterious Isabel Winwood, whom he had recently met in Juneau. Tim, who had returned to England without contacting Isabel, believed his crime had gone undetected until he began receiving anonymous letters about castaways. Vine (Anna's Book; The House of Stairs), the suspense-writing persona of Ruth Rendell, sets out what seems to be a full, straightforward picture. As the narrative progresses, however, she skillfully reaches back to add a point here or adjust a detail there to create a whole new, equally convincing, image. Another murder and further disclosures take this darkly romantic tale to a credible conclusion.||Adapted as a 2002 film, staring Marc Warren. This is another missed opportunity as a film; there is a revelation in the book which completely floored me when I read it; everything I had believed up to that point was overturned; this could have been such a great cinematic moment, with the camera panning in on the face of the protagonist as he realizes he's been duped, but again zilch in the film. And the stranding of Ivo on an uninhabited Arctic waste could also have been amazingly cinematic, but it's just ploddingly depicted by the director.|
|1998||THE CHIMNEY SWEEPER'S BOY||When successful author Gerald Candless dies of a sudden heart attack, his eldest daughter Sarah is approached by her father's publisher with a view to writing a biography about his life. Sarah embarks on the memoir but soon discovers that her perfect father was not all he appeared to be, and that in fact he wasn't Gerald Candless at all. Candless' neglected wife Ursula gradually regains her self-confidence and begins a new relationship as she realizes that the unhappiness of her marriage was due, not to her own shortcomings, but to her husband's latent homosexuality — indeed the reason itself as to why her husband became 'Gerald Candless' in the first place.||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
|2000||GRASSHOPPER||Writing under her Vine pseudonym, Ruth Rendell offers another of her intriguing, multifaceted psychological suspense novels (The Chimney Sweeper's Boy and The Brimstone Wedding, etc.). The narrator here is Clodagh Brown, who, as a child growing up in Suffolk, loved climbing trees, then steeples and eventually pylons whose steel arms carried electricity across nearby fields. Resembling giant grasshoppers from a distance, close-up they embodied high-voltage, lethal danger; indeed, a teenage Clodagh survives a tragic accident involving a pylon and her first love, Daniel, before she leaves home at 19 for college in London. She finds classes boring, whereas walks through Victorian neighborhoods, with five-story row houses, decorative cornices and quaint chimneys, enchant her. Clodagh almost forgets the claustrophobic terrors she's suffered since childhood until she collapses in a pedestrian underpass and is rescued by an archetypal savior named Silver. On the top floor of his mostly absent parents' home, Silver provides a haven for a disparate group: exotic Wim, mentor to would-be roof climbers; Liv, who, after an accident, can't face descending to street level; and amoral Jonny, who interests Silver because he is "a real life burglar." Silver has a small trust fund, so he's free to cultivate "the habit of happiness." He and Clodagh fall in love, and both become intrepid midnight roof climbers. As youthful idealists, they determine to help a couple harassed by tabloids accusing them of kidnapping a child. Their ill-fated attempt leads to a terrifying climax. Although readers know that Clodagh, a beguiling heroine, has survived to become a successful electrical engineer, and is newly married, the story of her youthful adventures is enthralling, and the conundrums she faces in her life because of her love of heights make for an ingenious story told by a master of suspense. ||No film adaptation I have been able to discover. Yet another Rendell heroine with a phobia, this time claustrophobia.|
|2002||THE BLOOD DOCTOR||This rich, labyrinthine book by Vine (aka Ruth Rendell) concerns a "mystery in history," like her 1998 novel, The Chimney Sweeper's Boy. Martin Nanther—biographer and member of the House of Lords—discovers some blighted roots on his family tree while researching the life of his great-great-grandfather, Henry, an expert on hemophilia and physician to Queen Victoria. Martin contacts long-lost relatives who help him uncover some puzzling events in Henry's life. Was Henry a dour workaholic or something much more sinister? Vine can make century-old tragedy come alive. Still, the decades lapsed between Martin's and Henry's circles create added emotional distance, and, because they are all at least 50 years dead, we never meet Henry or his cohorts except through diaries and letters. Martin's own life—his wife's infertility and troubles with a son from his first marriage—is interesting yet sometimes intrudes on the more intriguing Victorian saga. Vine uses her own experience as a peer to give readers an insider's look into the House of Lords, at the dukes snoozing in the library between votes and eating strawberries on the terrace fronting the Thames. Some minor characters are especially vivid, like Martin's elderly cousin Veronica, who belts back gin while stonewalling about the family skeletons all but dancing through her living room. Readers may guess Henry's game before Vine is ready to reveal it, but this doesn't detract from this novel peopled by characters at once repellent and compelling. ||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
|2005||THE MINOTAUR||British master Vine (aka Ruth Rendell) explores life among the Cosways, a country gentry clan that makes the Wuthering Heights crowd look wholesome. Kerstin Kvist, a young Swedish nurse, takes a job at Lydstep Old Hall caring for John Cosway, a mathematical prodigy now labeled by his family as schizophrenic. In addition to John, there are four obsessive sisters ruled by their scarecrow-like matriarch. Gradually, Kerstin suspects that John is being drugged so that his mother and sisters can remain in their estate under the terms of a disputed trust. Vine creates a family and village, Windrose, so vivid you're tempted to book a B and B and investigate things yourself. Some scenes involving John's behavior—his fits and his family's reactions—seem abrupt to the point of being bizarre, but Vine is describing a man hijacked from rationality, through a narrator whose first language isn't English. When murder finally happens, it's simultaneously shocking yet inevitable. Though less elegantly written than 2002's The Blood Doctor , this delivers a more palpable, and thus satisfying, ||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
|2008||THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT||It's late spring of 1990 and a love affair is flourishing: between Ivor Tesham, a thirty-three year old rising star of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government, and Hebe Furnal, a stunning North London housewife stuck in a dull marriage. What excitement Hebe lacks at home, however, is amply compensated for by the well-bred and intensely attractive Tesham - an ardent womanizer and ambitious politician. On the eve of her twenty-eighth birthday, Tesham decides to give Hebe a present to remember: something far more memorable than, say, the costly string of pearls he's already lavished upon her. Involving a fashionable new practice known as 'adventure sex', a man arranges for his unsuspecting but otherwise willing girlfriend to be snatched from the street, bound and gagged, and delivered to him at a mutually agreed venue. Set amidst an age of IRA bombings, the first Gulf War, and sleazy politics, The Birthday Present is the gripping story of a fall from grace, and of a man who carries within him all the hypocrisy, greed and self-obsession of a troubled era.||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
|2012||THE CHILD'S CHILD||When their grandmother dies, Grace and Andrew Easton inherit her sprawling, book-filled London home, Dinmont House. Rather than sell it, the adult siblings move in together, splitting the numerous bedrooms and studies. The arrangement is unusual, but ideal for the affectionate pair -- until the day Andrew brings home a new boyfriend. A devilishly handsome novelist, James Derain resembles Cary Grant, but his strident comments about Grace's doctoral thesis soon puncture the house's idyllic atmosphere. When he and Andrew witness their friend's murder outside a London nightclub, James begins to unravel, and what happens next will change the lives of everyone in the house. Just as turmoil sets in at Dinmont House, Grace escapes into reading a manuscript -- a long-lost novel from 1951 called The Child's Child -- never published, owing to its frank depictions of an unwed mother and a homosexual relationship. The book is the story of two siblings born a few years after World War One. This brother and sister, John and Maud, mirror the present-day Andrew and Grace: a homosexual brother and a sister carrying an illegitimate child. Acts of violence and sex will reverberate through their stories. The Child's Child is an ingenious novel-within-a-novel about family, betrayal, and disgrace. A master of psychological suspense, Ruth Rendell, writing as Barbara Vine, takes us where violence and social taboos collide. She shows how society's treatment of those it once considered undesirable has changed -- and how sometimes it hasn't.||No film adaptation I have been able to discover.|
Click here for more information on Barbara Vine's titles.
Rendell short stories adapted for TV as part of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES, include:
|1976||YOU CAN'T BE TOO CAREFUL||Adapted from the short story of the same name published in THE FALLEN CURTAIN. Prim businesswoman Della Galway has a compulsive penchant for double-locking doors but her new roommate is careless about security.|
|1976||THE FALLEN CURTAIN||Adapted from the short story of the same name from the collection of the same name. When Richard was 8 years old, he disappeared for several hours leading to panic at home and a frantic search by the police. When he turns up unhurt everything is fine until he mentions he went for a ride with a man in his car. His mother assumes he was molested, even though there is no physical evidence to corroborate that. By the time he is 18, Richard is haunted by those events, even though he still remembers nothing. When he visits the site where his troubles all began and sees a young boy playing there, he invites the lad to go for a ride in his car. Slowly, he begins to recall the events of that fateful day.||Adapted as a 1999 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1976||THE DOUBLE||Adapted from the short story of the same name published in THE FALLEN CURTAIN. Two identical women, one virginal and good and the other sexy and seductive, vie for the affections of a young stockbroker.|
|1978||A DARK BLUE PERFUME||Adapted from the short story of the same name in the collection THE NEW GIRLFRIEND. A middle-aged man is still haunted by a love affair from his youth which almost ended in murder.||Adapted as a 1997 episode starring Susannah York and John Castle of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1978||THE ORCHARD WALLS||Adapted from the short story of the same name published in THE NEW GIRLFRIEND. During World War II a London teenager, Jenny, is sent to spend the summer in the countryside where she will be safe. Staying with relatives she has not seen since she was a young child is initially daunting, but they are basically a kind family and they treat her well. One of her uncles is serving in North Africa and his very pretty wife is clearly unhappy. As events unfold, Jenny learns that she is having an affair. Jenny herself is at a age where romance is important and she develops a crush on a recuperating RAF pilot. As these complex relationships develop, tragedy ensues.||Adapted as a 1998 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1978||BRIBERY AND CORRUPTION||Adapted from the short story of the same name from THE NEW GIRLFRIEND. A recent college graduate believes he loves the wife of his father's former friend, but young Nicholas does not know that she's having an affair with his father.||Adapted as a 2-part 1996 episode starring Paul Freeman of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1982||A CASE OF COINCIDENCE||Adapted from the short story of the same name from the collection THE FEVER TREE. The discovery of Sarah Quinn’s body in a remote Fenland district is the fifth in a series of serial killings baffling Inspector Masters and Chief Inspector Moore in the autumn of 1954. Some say the fact that Sarah’s husband is an eminent brain surgeon and Sarah is subsequently well-to-do has spurred the police on to some positive action. Masters and Moore would both deny this although as a result of Sarah’s death they do have two clocks ticking against them. When will he kill again and will the Home Office decide to bring in Scotland Yard..?||Adapted as a 2-part 1996 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1982||THORNAPPLE||Adapted from the short story of the same name from the collection THE FEVER TREE. Twelve-year-old James lives with his parents and sister. He has a scientific mind and a load of jars, all containing poisons which he has manufactured from plants in the garden - his favourite being Thornapple. When cousin Mirabel and her baby come to stay, James is captivated by Mirabel, who has been rejected by her boyfriend. Mirabel's aunt June, who had also rejected her, suddenly puts her into her good books again, but when June dies, supposedly of gastric complications and leaving Mirabel a large sum of money, James has his doubts as to the true cause of death.||Adapted as a 1997 episode starring Susan Penhaligon of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1982||MAY AND JUNE||Adapted from the short story of the same name from the collection THE FEVER TREE. After a lifetime of sibling rivalry, mousy May accepts an invitation from her recently-widowed younger sister June, to live with her in her elegant home||Adapted as a 2-part 1997 episode of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1982||FRONT SEAT||Adapted from the short story of the same name from the collection THE FEVER TREE. Back in her childhood hometown, Cecily Branksome finds that a park bench in her father's honor has been replaced by one placed there in memory of Rupert Moore, a reputed murderer. To get even, she decides to out the man's mistress, the woman he killed his wife for. It had all happened long ago and her husband begs her to drop the whole thing, but she insists on going on. Aided by an old friend, Arnold Cottle, her pursuit turns to obsession. Little does she know the true story of Rupert Moore and his lover.||Adapted as a 1997 episode starring Richard Johnson and Janet Suzman of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
|1995||THE STRAWBERRY TREE||Adapted from a short story of the same name found in BLOOD LINES. When she was a young girl on the island of Majorca Petra Summerton was traumatized by the events of the Summer when her beloved older brother Piers and his cousin Rosario, to whom he was getting married, disappeared. Now she is middle-aged Petra still finds it hard to get over the situation.||Adapted as a 2-part 1995 episode starring Eleanor Bron of the 80-part TV series RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES.|
I think the reason I prefer her psychological thrillers to her Wexfords is that, at its heart, her writing is not about detection, and so her continuing detective characters, Wexford and Burden, are a lot less interesting than her other characters which show up for only a single book. The Wexfords are not really "police procedural" in the way that, for example, Ed McBain's 87th PRECINCTs are. Instead her writing is about the events that push people over the edge to commit crimes, and which show that there but for the grace of God, go you or I.
Despite my enjoyment of her books, it is a surprise to me so many of them have been dramatized because her plots generally occur over a long time and her novels consist of conversations and interior dialogues which would be difficult if not impossible to convey visually; they would require narration, which is often awkward. The miniseries version of GALLOWGLASS has quite a bit of narration and is not particularly enthralling compared to the book.
In addition, unlike most mystery novels, there are generally not a series of murders in Rendell's plots; and the thrust of the writing is almost never to figure out who the murderer is. It is more about the inevitability of a tragedy occurring which is often set off by something very minor but which builds and builds until the "straw which breaks the camel's back".
My very favorite of her books for a couple of years was A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES, which unlike some of her previous ones seems to have great cinematic potential and cries out for a Hitchcockian director (which it didn't get when it was made in France). I also found NO NIGHT IS TOO LONG to be an absolute page turner (and the film a damp squib). Currently PORTOBELLO is my new fave.
Certain themes show up in her various books; the use of Tarot cards, people being manipulated by horoscopes or similar superstition; ghosts, or actually mental illness in which people believe they are haunted; psychologically frail heroines, whom you want to slap and say, stand up for yourself, being reasonable isn't going to work with this bully; serial murderers who collect trinkets from their victims. Cats, unimportant to the plot, but cats show up every so often. She seemed fond of forcing new vocabulary on readers, words such as gallowglass, philoprogenitive, eonism, and uxorious, seldom found in any novel, crop up in hers. I admire her ability to invent real sounding place names: Kingsmarkham, Cheriton Forest, Myringham, Myfleet, Pomfret, Forby, Flagford, Vangemoor all sound like actual places to me. I also admire the character names she invented: Mix, Minty, Silver, Javy, Zillah, each more vivid than the last. I did not admire much the constant larding of often obscure quotes in Inspector Wexford's conversations and thoughts.
Rendell's books are not easily synopsized and are challenging to read. I am contacted from time to time by people who are doing reports on her for their homework, and who, basically, want me to falsify their homework for them, and I don't, so if you are such a student, please do not contact me. I also have no biographical information about her; so try the library.
However, I will give you an idea to develop. It seems to me in all Rendell's fiction, a common element is how lives are changed by very casual things, a decision, a coincidence, a chance meeting. I believe all of Rendell's works are cautionary tales of how easy it is to ruin lives by doing something, or failing to do something, that in and of itself is of no great moment, but which sets you down a road from which there is no return.
If you are new to Ruth Rendell and want a suggestion of a book to start, my choice is LAKE OF DARKNESS. Unlike many of her books which jump backwards and forwards in time, this was written in an almost completely linear fashion. As with most of her novels, it cuts between two sets of characters who pass each other in the course of the book but don't actually meet up until the very last couple of pages when a death occurs. It is atypical of Rendell in that there is more than one murder (although most of the murders are not important to the plot, but are to flesh out the character of the murderer), and one of the characters actually explains to another quite late in the book everything that has occurred so far - something which I don't think you'll find in any other of her books. It's also a fast book to read compared to some of the others that seem to take longer to get rolling.When asked about whether she has seen and enjoyed the TV adaptations based on her work, Ruth said that the Pedro Almodovar version of LIVE FLESH is very loosely based, but rather a good film. The best one that the BBC did was A FATAL INVERSION. The BBC is now doing NO NIGHT IS TOO LONG, and I have high hopes for it.
In an interview with Marianne MacDonald filed April 11, 2005, to publicize her latest Barbara Vine THE MINOTAUR, MacDonald writes: Ruth Rendell had a terrible childhood and her adulthood has been tempestuous. But does this help to explain her twin obsessions, psychopaths and punctuality?
Rendell is 75, fit and upright, incredibly young-looking for her age, with a humor dry as a French chablis. Her hair is dyed ashy blonde; her eyes are unusually blue.
She says: I do empathize with people who are driven by dreadful impulses. I think to be driven to want to kill must be such a terrible burden. I try, and I think I succeed, in making my readers feel pity for my psychopaths, because I do.
When she was asked nine years ago if she was writing from experience about psychopaths, a long pause ensued. I could hardly have reached my age and not suffered terrible unhappiness, distress and breakdown, Rendell replied. We all go through it, unless we are extremely dull or insensitive. I didn't have the sort of breakdown that caused one to be hospitalized, but perhaps today it would.
We are in the downstairs living-room. The drawing-room window overlooks shark-like black houseboats on the canal; but the living-room backs on to the garden, where Rendell's ginger tom, Archie, is forced to endure a pitched battle with the tigerish bengal tom from next door. Black bookcases frame hundreds of volumes. The open-plan kitchen is cream, the coffee-table covered in books - volume three of Proust's In Search of Lost Time (the new translation), Philip Roth, Suetonius.
Rendell's phobias seems to be the legacy of her Swedish mother, Ebba, who fell ill with multiple sclerosis that went undiagnosed for years. She and Rendell's father, Arthur Grasemann (they were both school teachers based in east London), had a terrible marriage, continually shrieking at each other, giving each other the silent treatment and threatening to leave. A sensitive only child, Rendell seems to have found the atmosphere terrifying. In self-defense she created an inner voice that described what was going on as if it was a story, and so her writing began. But the fear remained, streaming out in her terror of being late, her need to keep busy, and her obsession with routine. She often says that she doesn't think any families are ever happy and that the world is an amoral place.
Ruth Rendell published her first novel, FROM DOON WITH DEATH, when she was 34. She had started writing after getting married at 20 and having a baby. She had been fired from her first job on the South Woodford local newspaper for writing up the tennis club's annual jamboree without mentioning that the chairman dropped dead while making his speech. The man she married was Don Rendell, her boss on the paper. They stayed together until he died of prostate cancer six years ago, bar a tumultuous period in her mid-forties where she left him, plunged into an affair and then went back and remarried him.
She gets up at 6am, lets the cats out, works out on her exercise machines, and writes from 8.30am to noon. Plots never dry up.
Something happens. I read something or somebody tells me something and the idea is started. I got the idea for THE MINOTAUR, for instance, from, thinking, "How would it be for a family who had one member with an illness they completely misdiagnosed and they blamed this person, and eventually it was discovered what it was? And then what happens, in what is fashionably called the dysfunctional family?
On October 5, 2005, Dinita Smith wrote in the NEW YORK TIMES: In 1997 Rendell became Baroness Rendell of Babergh. She writes in the mornings, then attends the House of Lords when it is in session. She shows her work to only one person before sending it to her publisher, she said, a fellow Peer whom she will not name. Her average is three books every two years.
For those interested in Kingsmarkham, here is
a map, which claims that the setting was based on the West
Sussex town of Midhurst, although Romsey in Hampshire was the
site for the TV adaptations with George Baker.
An interesting DAILY MAIL article here
published shortly after Ruth died following a second stroke in
In early July 2015, BBC 4 Extra reran a 1994 interview of
Ruth Rendell by a clinical psychiatrist. She refused
to talk about why she remarried her husband Don (who was still
alive at the time of the interview), but she said many
interesting (to me) things that I identified with. That
she was afraid of people and it was an ordeal for her to attend
parties, even though she had attended hundreds of them.
Also that she had a compulsion to be punctual (which I have), and
often arrived in time to take a train earlier than the one she
set out to take. That there was a horrible anxiety
attached with the feeling of possibly being late, out of
proportion to the possibility. (I certainly have
that. That apart, the only things we seem to have in
common is that she was an only child of ill-suited parents, and
lived in her own head a lot.) She was 64 when she gave this
She had recurring dreams which were frightening to her. One in which she was walking through a strange house past lots of furniture and became more and more frightened, and one in which she (who was never ill and didn't take any medicines) had the feeling there was some medicine she should have taken and had to find to take immediately. I wonder if this was her subconscious suggesting she take some prophylactic blood thinners like aspirin to stave off strokes.