Ruth Rendell

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The Right Honourable
The Baroness Rendell of Babergh
Rendell in August 2007
Born Ruth Barbara Grasemann
(1930-02-17) 17 February 1930 (age 85)
South Woodford, London, England
Pen name Barbara Vine
Occupation Novelist
Genre Psychological thriller, murder mystery

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

Rendell's best-known creation, Chief Inspector Wexford, is the hero of many popular police stories, some of them successfully adapted for TV. But Rendell has also generated a separate brand of crime-fiction that explores deeply into the psychological background of criminals and their victims, many of them mentally afflicted or otherwise socially isolated. This theme is developed further in a third series of novels, written under her pseudonym Barbara Vine.


Rendell was born Ruth Barbara Grasemann in 1930, in South Woodford, London. Her parents were teachers. Her mother, Ebba Kruse, was born in Sweden and brought up in Denmark; her father, Arthur Grasemann, was English. As a result of spending Christmas and other holidays in Scandinavia, Rendell learned Swedish and Danish.[2] Rendell was educated at the County High School for Girls in Loughton, Essex. After high school she became a feature writer for her local paper, the Chigwell Times. Even at an early age, making up stories was irresistible to Rendell. As a reporter, she visited a house that was rumoured to be haunted and invented the ghost of an old woman. The owners threatened to sue the newspaper for devaluing their home. Later, she reported on the local tennis club's annual dinner without attending, so missing the untimely death of the after-dinner speaker in mid-speech. She resigned before she could be fired.

Rendell met her husband, Don Rendell when she was working as a newswriter. They married when she was 20, and in 1953 had a son, Simon,[3] now a psychiatric social worker who lives in Colorado. The couple divorced in 1975, but remarried two years later.[4] Don Rendell died in 1999 from prostate cancer.[3]

She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1996 Birthday Honours[5] and a life peer as Baroness Rendell of Babergh, of Aldeburgh in the County of Suffolk, on 24 October 1997.[6] She sits in the House of Lords for the Labour Party. In 1998 Rendell was named in a list of the party's biggest private financial donors.[7] She introduced into the Lords the bill that would later become the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. In August 2014, Rendell was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.[8]

Lady Rendell has received many awards, including the Silver, Gold, and Cartier Diamond Daggers from the Crime Writers' Association, three Edgars from the Mystery Writers of America, The Arts Council National Book Awards, and The Sunday Times Literary Award. A number of her works have been adapted for film or television. She is also a patron of the charity Kids for Kids[9] which helps children in rural areas of Darfur.

On 15 January 2015, It was announced that Rendell was in a critical but stable condition after suffering a stroke on 7 January.[10]

Developing the thriller genre[edit]

Rendell wrote two unpublished novels before the 1964 publication of From Doon With Death, which was purchased for £75 by John Long; it was the first mystery to feature her enduring and popular detective Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford. Rendell has said that the character of Wexford was based on herself.[11]The Monster in the Box, released in October 2009, was widely rumoured to be Wexford's last case.[12] This was incorrect; however it was the final novel featuring Wexford as an employed policeman; in the novel that followed, The Vault, he has retired.[13]

In addition to these police procedurals starring Wexford, Rendell has written psychological crime novels exploring such themes as romantic obsession, misperceived communication, the impact of chance and coincidence, and the humanity of the criminals involved. Among such books are A Judgement in Stone, The Face of Trespass, Live Flesh, Talking to Strange Men, The Killing Doll, Going Wrong and Adam and Eve and Pinch Me. Many credit her and close friend P. D. James for upgrading the entire genre of whodunit, shaping it more into a whydunit. Rendell's protagonists are often socially isolated, suffer from mental illness, and/or are otherwise disadvantaged; she explores the adverse impacts of their circumstances on these characters as well as on their victims.

Rendell created a third strand of writing with the publication in 1986 of A Dark-Adapted Eye under her pseudonym Barbara Vine (the name derives from her own middle name and her great grandmother's maiden name).[2] King Solomon's Carpet, A Fatal Inversion and Asta's Book (alternative US title, Anna's Book), among others, inhabit the same territory as her psychological crime novels while further developing themes of human misunderstandings and the unintended consequences of family secrets and hidden crimes. The author is noted for her elegant prose and sharp insights into the human mind, as well as her cogent plots and characters. Rendell injected the social changes of the last 40 years into her work, bringing awareness to such issues as domestic violence and the change in the status of women.[citation needed]


Inspector Wexford series[edit]

Standalone novels[edit]


Written as Barbara Vine[edit]

Short story collections[edit]

Uncollected short stories[edit]

  • In the Time of His Prosperity* (as Barbara Vine)


  • Ruth Rendell's Suffolk (1989)
  • Undermining the Central Line: giving government back to the people (with Colin Ward, 1989) a political tract
  • The Reason Why: An Anthology of the Murderous Mind (1995)

Children's Books

  • Archie & Archie (2013)

Adaptations of her works[edit]

The Inspector Wexford series was successfully televised, starring acclaimed British actor George Baker as Inspector Wexford and Christopher Ravenscroft as Detective Mike Burden, under the title The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, with 48 episodes from 1987 to 2000. Rendell praised Baker's performance, stating "It was a marvellous achievement as an actor to make him more and better than the author intended."[11] Many of her other works have been adapted for film and television. She has said that Chabrol's 1995 version of A Judgement in Stone, La Cérémonie with Sandrine Bonnaire, is one of the few film adaptations of her work that she is happy with. The novel was also filmed in 1986 with Rita Tushingham.[14] Chabrol made La Demoiselle d'honneur in 2004, based on The Bridesmaid.[citation needed]

Other adaptations are Diary of the Dead (1976), from the book One Across, Two Down; the 1997 Pedro Almodóvar film Live Flesh; The Tree of Hands, directed by Giles Foster for Granada with Lauren Bacall (US title: "Innocent Victim"); and another version of The Tree of Hands, Betty Fisher et autres histoires (2001, aka Alias Betty), with screenplay and direction by Claude Miller.[citation needed]

Awards and honours[edit]

See also[edit]

  • P. D. James, a writer of detective fiction who was also a member of the House of Lords


External links[edit]