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Ruth Rendell

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The Baroness Rendell of Babergh

Rendell in 1985
Rendell in 1985
BornRuth Barbara Grasemann
(1930-02-17)17 February 1930
Woodford, Essex, England
Died2 May 2015(2015-05-02) (aged 85)
London, England
Pen nameBarbara Vine

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

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

Early life[edit]

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

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

Personal life[edit]

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

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

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

Rendell was a vegetarian who was described as living mostly on fruit.[12] She described herself as "slightly agoraphobic" and slept in a specially made four-poster bed because "I like to feel enclosed."[12]


Baroness Rendell's awards include the Silver, Gold, and Cartier Diamond Daggers from the Crime Writers' Association, three Edgars from the Mystery Writers of America, The Arts Council National Book Awards, and The Sunday Times Literary Award.[2] A number of her works (see the section below) have been adapted for film or television.[13][14] She was also a patron of the charity Kids for Kids[15] which helps children in rural areas of Darfur. There is a blue plaque on one of her homes, 45 Millsmead Way, in Loughton. This was unveiled by her son Simon on 24 February 2016.[16] Four of her novels appear on the British-based Crime Writers Association Poll (1990) of the best crime fiction novels ever written: two under the Rendell name and two under her pen name of Barbara Vine.[citation needed]

Her Crime Writer’s Association Dagger wins (four Gold, one Silver and one Cartier Diamond) remains unmatched, as does her record of being the first author to be nominated and win under multiple names. Her unparalleled Edgar and Dagger finalist nominations include: A Judgement In Stone (1977 Gold Dagger finalist), A Sleeping Life (1979 Edgar finalist for Best Novel), Make Death Love Me (1980 Edgar finalist for Best Novel), The Speaker Of Mandarin (1983 Gold Dagger finalist), An Unkindness Of Ravens and The Tree Of Hands (both 1986 Edgar finalists for Best Novel), A Dark-Adapted Eye (as Barbara Vine, 1986 Gold Dagger finalist), A Fatal Inversion (as Barbara Vine 1988 Macavity Award finalist for Best Novel), and Going Wrong (1990 Gold Dagger finalist.) [17] Additionally, she was nominated four times in the Edgar “Best Short Story” category (in 1976 for The Fall Of The Coin and 1977 for People Don’t Do Such Things) winning twice for The Fallen Curtain (1975) and The New Girlfriend (1984).[18]


Rendell suffered a stroke on 7 January 2015,[19] and she died on 2 May at St George's Hospital in Tooting, London.[20][21]


The Ruth Rendell Award was introduced in 2016 by the National Literacy Trust. It is awarded to authors for their work in inspiring children and improving their literacy.[22]

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 Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford. Rendell said that the character of Wexford was based on herself.[23] The Monster in the Box, released in October 2009, was widely suggested to be Wexford's last case.[24] This was incorrect; however it was the final novel featuring Wexford as an employed policeman. In the two following novels, The Vault and No Man's Nightingale, he was retired but was still involved in police investigations as a "consultant".[25]

In Introducing Chief Inspector Wexford by Daniel Mallory he says (based on a 1990 interview with Rendell by Marilyn Stasio) that Rendell refers to the hated Agatha (Christie) and that awful Marple woman; and says of St. Mary Mead that she can hardly bear to say the name of that village where one finds a lot of normal, law-abiding people living ordinary, blameless lives, who suddenly decide to murder their aunt. Well, I don't believe that.[26] (Introducing Chief Inspector Wexford by Daniel Mallory; from 1990 Rendell interview with Marilyn Stasio)

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

Rendell created a third strand of writing with the publication in 1986 of A Dark-Adapted Eye under her pseudonym Barbara Vine (the name was derived from her own middle name and her great-grandmother's maiden name).[4] King Solomon's Carpet, A Fatal Inversion and Asta's Book (alternative U.S. title, Anna's Book), among others, inhabited the same territory as her psychological crime novels while further developing themes of human misunderstandings and the unintended consequences of family secrets and hidden crimes. The author was noted for her elegant prose and sharp insights into the human mind, as well as her cogent plots and characters. Rendell injected the social changes of the last 40 years into her work, bringing awareness to such issues as domestic violence.[27]

Adaptations of her works[edit]

The Inspector Wexford series was successfully televised, starring George Baker as Inspector Wexford and Christopher Ravenscroft as Detective Mike Burden, under the title The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, with 48 episodes from 1987 to 2000. Rendell praised Baker's performance, stating "It was a marvellous achievement as an actor to make him more and better than the author intended."[23] Many of her other works have been adapted for film and television. She said that Claude Chabrol's 1995 version of A Judgement in Stone, La Cérémonie with Sandrine Bonnaire, was one of the few film adaptations of her work that she was happy with. The novel was also filmed in 1986 with Rita Tushingham.[28] Chabrol made La Demoiselle d'honneur in 2004, based on The Bridesmaid.

Other adaptations are Diary of the Dead (1976), from the book One Across, Two Down; the 1997 Pedro Almodóvar film Live Flesh;[29] The Tree of Hands, directed by Giles Foster for Granada with Lauren Bacall (U.S. title: "Innocent Victim"); and another version of The Tree of Hands, Betty Fisher et autres histoires (2001, a.k.a. Alias Betty), with screenplay and direction by Claude Miller. François Ozon's 2015 film The New Girlfriend was based on Rendell's short story of the same name.[30] Two episodes of Tales of the Unexpected were based on Rendell's short stories - "A Glowing Future" (series 4, episode 15) and "People Don't Do Such Things" (series 8, episode 1).

Awards and honours[edit]

Coat of arms of Ruth Rendell
Gules three interlaced chevronels argent each ensigned by a brimstone butterfly displayed proper.
On either side a bear statant erect proper gorged with a plain collar gobony gules and or fimbriated gules.
Vixi Scripsi [35]
Commander of the Order of the British Empire


Inspector Wexford series[edit]

  1. From Doon with Death (1964) ISBN 978-0099588542
  2. A New Lease of Death (1967) (American title: The Sins of the Fathers) ISBN 978-0099534792
  3. Wolf to the Slaughter (1967) ISBN 978-0099534822
  4. The Best Man to Die (1969) ISBN 978-0375704895
  5. A Guilty Thing Surprised (1970) ISBN 978-0099534846
  6. No More Dying Then (1971) ISBN 978-0375704895
  7. Murder Being Once Done (1972)
  8. Some Lie and Some Die (1973)
  9. Shake Hands Forever (1975)
  10. A Sleeping Life (1978)
  11. Put on by Cunning (1981) (American title: Death Notes)
  12. The Speaker of Mandarin (1983)
  13. An Unkindness of Ravens (1985)
  14. The Veiled One (1988)
  15. Kissing the Gunner's Daughter (1991)
  16. Simisola (1994)
  17. Road Rage (1997)
  18. Harm Done (1999) ISBN 978-0099281344
  19. The Babes in the Wood (2002)
  20. End in Tears (2005)
  21. Not in the Flesh (2007)
  22. The Monster in the Box (2009)
  23. The Vault (2011)
  24. No Man's Nightingale (2013)

Stand alone novels[edit]


  • Thornapple (1982).[36] Collected in The Fever Tree.
  • Heartstones (1987). Uncollected.
  • Piranha To Scurfy (1990). Collected in Piranha To Scurfy[37]
  • High Mysterious Union (1990). Collected in Piranha To Scurfy[38]
  • The Strawberry Tree (1995). Collected in Blood Lines.
  • The Thief (2006). Collected in A Spot of Folly.

Written as Barbara Vine[edit]

Short story collections[edit]

Uncollected short stories[edit]

  • "The Martyr", included in Midsummer Nights (ed. Jeanette Winterson), Quercus, 2009

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


Children's books[edit]

  • Archie & Archie (2013)


  1. ^ Alison Flood (1 March 2013). "Ruth Rendell: a life in writing". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  2. ^ a b The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Sixth edition. Ed. by Margaret Drabble. Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 847. ISBN 0-19-866244-0.
  3. ^ a b c "Ruth Rendell, crime writer - obituary". 2 May 2015. Retrieved 23 March 2018 – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
  4. ^ a b LibBrooks (3 August 2002). "The Profile: Ruth Rendell". The Guardian.
  5. ^ "Author Ruth Rendell dies aged 85". BBC.
  6. ^ a b "Open and shut case: Is Ruth Rendell finally ready to open up about her puzzling personal life?". The Independent. 10 March 2013.
  7. ^ Brooks, Libby (3 August 2002). "Ruth Rendell, Dark Lady of Whodunnits". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 28 October 2011.
  8. ^ "No. 54427". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 June 1996. p. 9.
  9. ^ "No. 54933". The London Gazette. 29 October 1997. p. 12149.
  10. ^ "'Luvvies' for Labour". BBC News. 30 August 1998.
  11. ^ "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories". The Guardian. London. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  12. ^ a b "Ruth Rendell". thetimes.co.uk. Retrieved 22 February 2023.
  13. ^ Ruth Rendell (1930–2015). IMDb
  14. ^ The Hutchinson Encyclopedia of Literature. Helicon Publishing, 2006.
  15. ^ "How We Are Run". kidsforkids.org.uk. 6 May 2015. Archived from the original on 13 September 2015. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  16. ^ "Blue plaque unveiled for renowned and much-loved author Ruth Rendell". East London and West Essex Guardian Series. 24 February 2016. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  17. ^ a b c d https://thecwa.co.uk/past-winners/page/2?search=ruth rendell&from_year&to_year
  18. ^ a b "Category List – Best Short Story | Edgar® Awards Info & Database".
  19. ^ "Ruth Rendell in critical condition after stroke". BBC News. 7 January 2015.
  20. ^ "Author Ruth Rendell dies aged 85". BBC News. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  21. ^ Wisker, Gina (10 January 2019). "Rendell [née Grasemann; pseud. Barbara Vine], Ruth Barbara, Baroness Rendell of Babergh (1930–2015), novelist and short story writer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/odnb/9780198614128.013.110398. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  22. ^ "Nominations for the annual Ruth Rendell Award are now open". Educate magazine. 23 June 2021. Retrieved 6 February 2022.
  23. ^ a b "Wexford is me, Ruth Rendell confesses". BBC News. 10 October 2011.
  24. ^ Walker, Tim (4 May 2009). "Ruth Rendell closes the book on Wexford but new drama beckons". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
  25. ^ Alison Flood. "Ruth Rendell: a life in writing | Books". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  26. ^ Rendell, Ruth (2007) [1964]. From Doon with Death (2 ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. p. 217. ISBN 978-0-345-49845-8.
  27. ^ Vanessa Thorpe (17 August 2013). "Ruth Rendell: 'Withholding information from the reader should be part of any story'". The Guardian.
  28. ^ anxietyresister (24 April 1987). "A Judgment in Stone (1986)". IMDb.
  29. ^ "Ruth Rendell returns to ITV after 12 years with a dark thriller". Telegraph.co.uk. 6 August 2012.
  30. ^ "The New Girlfriend review – bold adaptation of a Ruth Rendell short story". TheGuardian.com. 21 May 2015.
  31. ^ "2004 – Svenska Deckarakademin".
  32. ^ "Ruth Rendell | United Agents".
  33. ^ "Category List – the Grand Master | Edgar® Awards Info & Database".
  34. ^ "Novels up for 'lost' Booker Prize". BBC News. 1 February 2010.
  35. ^ Debrett's Peerage. 2000.
  36. ^ Published in Academy Mystery Novellas, Volume 5: Women Write Murder, Martin H. Greenberg and Edward D. Hoch, editors. 1987
  37. ^ "Piranha to Scurfy: And Other Stories by Ruth Rendell".
  38. ^ "Piranha to Scurfy: And Other Stories by Ruth Rendell".

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]