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May 8, 2015

Remembering Ruth Rendell, 1930-2015

We lost an important writer with the passing of Ruth Rendell on May 2, 2015. Her following around the world was enormous, and her Chief Inspector Wexford novels were a staple of mystery readers. Rendell also was known for her psychological thrillers written under the pseudonym Barbara Vine.

Rendell was considered one of the pioneers in bringing psychological insight and a sense of social consciousness to her work. She wrote over 60 books in her 40-year career; she also was a socialist who introduced issues including environmentalism, politics, mental health and celebrity culture to her body of work. She became part of the House of Lords under Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour government in 1997, becoming Baroness Rendell of Barbergh.

"I don't think the world is a particularly pleasant place," said Rendell. "It is, of course, for some people. But it is a hard place, and I don't think it's being cynical to say that." She told The Daily Mail, "Suspense is my thing. The old detective story that's got a really complicated tortuous motive doesn't apply to mine. It's that people do these things almost by accident, or because of anger, their rage, their madness --- and then probably regret it." Two years ago, she said, “I think I am able to make people want to keep turning pages. I wait until I've got a character and I think why would anybody do that, what is it in their background that makes them do it?”

I have read almost all of the Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine novels. I collect books and have found the Wexford stories to be delightful. I enjoy the ruminating the Inspector does as he solves crimes and takes care of his family. That is a plus in series books because it infuses the characters with humanity.The Barbara Vine stories are darker and edgier, albeit wonderful to read. She takes a different tone in these books and leaves hints for readers to go looking for clues as we try to solve the conundrum.

Ruth Rendell suffered a stroke in January 2015, and her death at age 85 is a great loss to her readers and to the crime-writing world.