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Rendell, Ruth 1930–

Rendell, Ruth 1930–

(Ruth Barbara Rendell, Barbara Vine)

PERSONAL: Born February 17, 1930, London, England; daughter of Arthur Grasemann (a teacher) and Ebba (a teacher) Kruse; married Donald Rendell, 1950 (divorced, 1975; remarried, 1977); children: Simon. Education: Educated in Essex, England. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, walking, opera.

ADDRESSES: Home—26 Cornwall Terrace Mews, London NW1 5LL, England. Agent—Sterling Lord Agency, 660 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10021.

CAREER: Writer. Express and Independent Newspapers, West Essex, England, reporter and subeditor for the Chigwell Times, 1948–52.

AWARDS, HONORS: Edgar Allan Poe Award, Mystery Writers of America, 1974, for story "The Fallen Curtain," 1976, for collection The Fallen Curtain and Other Stories, 1984, for story "The New Girlfriend," and 1986, for novel A Dark-Adapted Eye; Gold Dagger Award, Crime Writers Association, 1977, for A Demon in My View, 1986, for Live Flesh, and 1987, for A Fatal Inversion; British Arts Council bursary, 1981; British National Book Award, 1981, for The Lake of Darkness; Popular Culture Association Award, 1983; Silver Dagger Award, Crime Writers Association, 1984, for The Tree of Hands; Sunday Times award for Literary Excellence, 1990.



From Doon with Death (also see below), John Long (London, England), 1964, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1965.

To Fear a Painted Devil, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1965.

Vanity Dies Hard, John Long (London, England), 1966, published as In Sickness and in Health, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1966.

A New Lease of Death (also see below), Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1967, published as Sins of the Fathers, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1970.

Wolf to the Slaughter, John Long (London, England), 1967, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1968.

The Secret House of Death, John Long (London, England), 1968, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1969.

The Best Man to Die (also see below), John Long (London, England), 1969, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1970.

A Guilty Thing Surprised, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1970.

No More Dying Then, Hutchinson (London, England), 1971, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1972.

One Across, Two Down, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1971.

Murder Being Once Done, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1972.

Some Lie and Some Die, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1973.

The Face of Trespass, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1974.

Shake Hands Forever, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1975.

A Demon in My View, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1977.

A Judgment in Stone, Hutchinson (London, England), 1977, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1978.

A Sleeping Life, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1978.

Make Death Love Me, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1979.

The Lake of Darkness, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1980.

Put On by Cunning, Hutchinson (London, England), 1981, published as Death Notes, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1981.

Master of the Moor, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1982.

The Speaker of Mandarin, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1983.

The Killing Doll, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1984.

The Tree of Hands, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1984.

An Unkindness of Ravens, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1985.

Live Flesh, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1986.

Heartstones, Harper (New York, NY), 1987.

Talking to Strangers, Hutchinson (London, England), 1987, published as Talking to Strange Men, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1987.

The Veiled One, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1988.

The Bridesmaid, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1989.

Going Wrong, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1990.

Kissing the Gunner's Daughter, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1992.

The Crocodile Bird, Crown (New York, NY), 1993.

Simisola, Random House (New York, NY), 1995.

Ginger and the Kingsmarkham Chalk Circle, Phoenix (London, England), 1996.

The Keys to the Street, Random House (New York, NY), 1996.

Road Rage, Crown (New York, NY), 1997.

Bloodlines, Wheeler (Rockland, MA), 1997.

Whydunit (Perfectly Criminal 2), Severn House (London, England), 1997.

Thornapple, Travelman (London, England), 1998.

A Sight for Sore Eyes: A Novel, Crown (New York, NY), 1999.

Harm Done: An Inspector Wexford Mystery, Crown (New York, NY), 1999.

Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, Crown (New York, NY), 2001.

The Babes in the Wood, Crown (New York, NY), 2002.

The Rottweiler, Crown (New York, NY), 2004.


The Fallen Curtain and Other Stories, Hutchinson (London, England), 1976, published as The Fallen Curtain: Eleven Mystery Stories by an Edgar Award-Winning Writer, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1976.

Means of Evil and Other Stories, Hutchinson (London, England), 1979, published as Five Mystery Stories by an Edgar Award-Winning Writer, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1980.

The Fever Tree and Other Stories, Hutchinson (London, England), 1982, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1983, published as The Fever Tree and Other Stories of Suspense, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1984.

The New Girlfriend and Other Stories, Hutchinson (London, England), 1985, published as The New Girlfriend and Other Stories of Suspense, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1986.

(Editor) A Warning to the Curious: The Ghost Stories of M.R. James, Hutchinson (London, England), 1986.

Collected Short Stories, Hutchinson (London, England), 1987, published as Collected Stories, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1988.

Wexford: An Omnibus (contains From Doon with Death, A New Lease of Death, and The Best Man to Die), Hutchinson (London, England), 1988.

(With Colin Ward) Undermining the Central Line, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1989.

The Copper Peacock and Other Stories, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1991.

The Fifth Wexford Omnibus (contains Means of Evil, An Unkindness of Ravens, and The Veiled One), Hutchinson (London, England), 1991.

(With photographs by Paul Bowden) Ruth Rendell's Suffolk, Hutchinson (London, England), 1992.

Blood Lines: Long and Short Stories, Crown (New York, NY), 1996.

(Editor) The Reason Why: An Anthology of the Murderous Mind, Crown (New York, NY), 1996.

Piranha to Scurfy and Other Stories, Vintage (New York, NY), 2002.

Contributor of short stories to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.


A Dark-Adapted Eye, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.

A Fatal Inversion, Bantam (New York, NY), 1987.

(With others) Yes, Prime Minister: The Diaries of the Right Honorable James Hacker, Salem House Publishers, 1988.

The House of Stairs, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1989.

Gallowglass, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1990.

King Solomon's Carpet, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1992.

Anna's Book, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1993.

No Night Is Too Long, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1994.

The Brimstone Wedding, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1996.

The Chimney Sweeper's Boy: A Novel, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Grasshopper, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 2000.

The Blood Doctor, Shaye Areheart Books (New York, NY), 2002.

ADAPTATIONS: A Judgment in Stone was filmed as The Housekeeper, Rawfilm/Schulz Productions, 1987; several of Rendell's Wexford mysteries have been adapted for British television and subsequently aired on the Arts and Entertainment network's "Masters of Mystery" series.

SIDELIGHTS: Ruth Rendell is a prolific author who, writing under her own name and the pseudonym Barbara Vine, has enthralled both the general public and literary critics with her skillfully written mysteries and suspenseful stories. She has the ability, according to Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Patricia A. Gabilondo, to render tales that could be considered formulaic, into something "always suspenseful and viscerally compelling." In her first novel, the author introduced Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford, a proper Englishman whose town of Kingsmarkham, Sussex, is plagued by many murders. Wexford has been the subject of numerous sequels and has won much praise for his creator for the deft characterizations, clever plots, and surprising endings that mark these books. While the Wexford books are straightforward police procedural novels, the books Rendell publishes under the Vine pseudonym are more gothic, often involving twisted psychology to produce edgy thrillers. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Francis Wyndham praised the author for her "masterly grasp of plot construction [and] highly developed faculty for social observation." David Lehman of Newsweek commented that "few detective writers are as good at pulling such last-second rabbits out of their top hats—the last page making us see everything before it in a strange, new glare."

Rendell's Wexford character is middle-aged, happily married, and the father of two grown daughters. His extensive reading allows him to quote from a wide range of literature during his murder investigations, but despite his erudition, Wexford is not cynical, eccentric, or misanthropic as are many literary detectives. His well-adjusted manner serves as contrast to the many strange mysteries he investigates. Social differences are frequently illuminated in these mysteries, and Rendell has been singled out as particularly skillful at portraying England's social stratification, even in the details of her descriptions of architectural details. Gabilondo mused, "Her meticulous description of setting serves to create atmosphere and, more important, to communicate the intimate relation between the physical and the psychological, especially in terms of the way that landscapes, whether urban or rural, take on the imprints of sociological change and personal conflict."

Wexford is also notable for his philosophical turn of mind and his keen empathy for his fellow man, in whatever the circumstances. His sensitivity makes him quite desirable to the women he encounters, yet Wexford remains determinedly devoted to his wife. Wexford's greatest disdain is for the "inanities of modernity," wrote Gabilondo. "Through Wexford's often ironic eye, Rendell paints a remarkably specific portrait of the changes that have occurred in English life—the encroachment of suburban sprawl, the banal homogenization of consumer culture, the dispossessed youth, the problems with unemployment, and the growing complexities of civil bureaucracies. Able to see both sides of any issue, as well as to grasp the essential poignancy of the human condition, Wexford finds himself often at odds with his official role, for his reliance on intuition and the imagination usually runs counter to the official line, offering a rich resource of dramatic tension," concluded Gabilondo. Wexford's open-mindedness is contrasted with the more narrow vision and rigid morality of his partner, Inspector Michael Burden. Unlike many series characters, Wexford and Burden age and go through many significant changes as the series progresses.

Rendell's early Wexford mysteries dealt frequently with desire and taboo, while in her later books she takes on social issues in a more direct manner. Feminism, ecoterrorism, and other modern concerns are examined, not always in a flattering light. In A Sleeping Life, gender-identity conflicts figure prominently in the murder case, while Wexford's daughter becomes involved in a radical feminist group. Rendell actually drew the ire of real-life feminist groups after the publication of An Unkindness of Ravens, which features a man-hating group called Action for the Radical Reform of Intersexual Attitudes (ARRIA). Members of the group vow to carry weapons and refrain from marriage; it even seems that some members advocate the murder of a man as an initiation rite. The author also ruffled feathers with Kissing the Gunner's Daughter, which challenges the popular notion that class stratification is much less meaningful in Britain than it has been in the past. Racism is addressed in Simisola, another Wexford novel; the problems of urban and suburban sprawl are considered in Road Rage; and the subject of wife-beating is approached in Harm Done.

Various types of psychological torment are central in Rendell's other books. A Judgment in Stone portrays an illiterate woman whose inability to read has led to a life of shame, isolation, and regression. The Killing Doll features Dolly Yearman, a schizophrenic whose delusions eventually lead her to murder. Live Flesh is told from the point of view of a convicted murderer and rapist, who lives in a strange symbiotic relationship with the police officer he crippled with a gunshot wound. In The Bridesmaid, the Pygmalion myth is turned inside out as a beautiful girl is shown to be marred by her mental instability. Despite her flaws, she becomes the object of sexual obsession for Philip; eventually, she brings him to the brink of murder. One of the author's most ambitious novels is The Keys to the Street, which uses the concentric circles and paths of London's Regent Park to follow the interconnected threads of human lives, particularly that of a well-to-do man who lives on the streets in the wake of a family tragedy and a young woman struggling to assert her independence. Although it may be the author's "most compassionate and most complex treatment of the human condition," according to Gabilondo, it left "most reviewers disappointed in her failure to bring all the strands together. The effectiveness of the structure, how-ever, lies in this intentional failure to make everything connect. In Rendell's psychological thrillers, those avenues of emotional connection, like the misaligned arcs of Regent's Park, often do not meet, frustrating the hopes and dreams of her characters' lives." A very positive assessment of the book was offered by Emily Melton in Booklist, however; she wrote that it is "at once tragic, shocking, satisfying, and hopeful," and added, "Without a doubt, Rendell ranks with today's finest writers, and this book is one of her best…. Superbly written and beautifully constructed, the story is unique, powerful, and provocative."

Adam and Eve and Pinch Me is a "gem from the British master," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer, filled with characters "so vivid they live beyond the frame of the novel." At the center of the plot is Minty Knox, a woman in her thirties who works in a dry-cleaners and is obsessed with germs and cleanliness. Her hygiene phobias, as well as the ghosts she imagines she sees, figure prominently in a plot that is "intricate but brisk," according to the writer, "a literary page-turner, both elegant and accessible." Booklist reviewer Connie Fletcher called the book "madly absorbing," and advised, "Rendell's characters are fully drawn, and we become completely caught up in their struggles." Discussing her writing with a Publishers Weekly interviewer, Rendell commented, "I do write about obsession, but I don't think I have an obsession for writing. I'm not a compulsive writer. I like to watch obsession in other people, watch the way it makes them behave."

Gabilondo concluded: "Rendell's greatest contribution, in addition to her gifts as a storyteller, has been to track the social and the psychological circulation of that vast system—political, familial, cultural, and genetic—in which people are forced to play out their lives, through a body of work that takes readers not into the cozy drawing rooms of traditional English mystery but into the lives and psyches of men and women in a vividly contemporary Britain."



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 28, 1984, Volume 48, 1988, Volume 50, 1988.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 87: British Mystery and Thriller Writers since 1940, 1989, Volume 276: British Mystery and Thriller Writers since 1960, 2003.

Mystery and Suspense Writers: The Literature of Crime, Detection, and Espionage, Scribner (New York, NY), 1998.


Advertiser (Adelaide, Australia), July 27, 2002, Katharine England, review of The Blood Doctor, p. W13.

Antioch Review, winter, 1997, review of The Keys to the Street, p. 122.

Belles Lettres, summer, 1993, p. 50; spring, 1994, p. 13.

Booklist, August, 1996, Emily Melton, review of The Keys to the Street, p. 1856; August, 1997, Emily Melton, review of Road Rage, p. 1848; December 1, 1998, Emily Melton, review of A Sight for Sore Eyes, p. 620; April 15, 1999, review of Kissing the Gunner's Daughter, p. 1458; August, 1999, review of A Judgement in Stone, p. 2025; September 1, 1999, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Harm Done, p. 8; November 1, 1999, Karen Harris, review of A Sight for Sore Eyes, p. 551; June 1, 2000, Mary McCay, review of Harm Done, p. 1922; November 1, 2000, Connie Fletcher, review of Piranha to Scurfy and Other Stories, p. 493; November 15, 2001, Connie Fletcher, review of Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, p. 524; September 1, 2003, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Babes in the Wood, p. 7.

Chicago Tribune, August 29, 1989; October 31, 1993.

Chicago Tribune Book World, December 19, 1982.

Christian Science Monitor, July 6, 1992, p. 13.

Detroit News, August 12, 1979.

Entertainment Weekly, March 15, 2002, review of Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, p. 72.

Europe Intelligence Wire, October 20, 2002, Katie Owen, review of The Babes in the Wood; November 2, 2002, Rachel Simhon, review of The Babes in the Wood.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 31, 1986; September 16, 1989.

Independent (London, England), August 18, 2001, Jane Jakeman, review of Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, p. 9; June 15, 2002, Jane Jakeman, "Where Does Ruth Rendell End and 'Barbara Vine' Begin?," p. 30.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2003, review of The Babes in the Wood, p. 942.

Library Journal, February 1, 1999, Caroline Mann, review of A Sight for Sore Eyes, p. 122; August, 1999, Michael Rogers, review of Some Lie and Some Die, p. 149; September 1, 1999, Michael Rogers, review of Murder Being Once Done, p. 238; October 1, 1991, p. 144; October 15, 1995; January, 1996, p. 149; September 1, 1999, Francine Fialkoff, review of Harm Done, p. 237; October 1, 1999, Sandy Glover, review of A Sight for Sore Eyes, p. 150; May 15, 2000, Danna Bell-Russel, review of Harm Done, p. 142; June 15, 2000, Michael Rogers, review of A Judgement in Stone, p. 122; December, 2000, Jane la Plante, review of Piranha to Scurfy and Other Stories, p. 194; December, 2001, Caroline Mann, review of Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, p. 175; October 1, 2003, Caroline Mann, review of The Babes in the Wood, p. 122.

Los Angeles Times, June 3, 1992, p. E1.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 3, 1980; May 8, 1983; November 21, 1993, p. 12.

Maclean's, May 19, 1986; April 10, 1995, p. 58.

Mademoiselle, February, 1996, p. 94.

New Statesman, September 6, 1996, Carol Birch, review of The Keys to the Street, p. 47; October 30, 1998, Francis Gilbert, review of A Sight for Sore Eyes.

Newsweek, September 21, 1987.

New York Times, September 9, 1988; February 4, 1990; June 12, 1992, p. C12; April 10, 1995, p. C9.

New York Times Book Review, June 25, 1967; June 23, 1968; August 24, 1969; February 26, 1974; June 2, 1974; December 1, 1974; April 27, 1975; November 23, 1975; February 27, 1977; October 13, 1996, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Keys to the Street, p. 29; September 7, 1997, Marilyn Stasio, review of Road Rage, p. 34; January 23, 1979; October 14, 1979; February 24, 1980; April 4, 1999, Marilyn Stasio, review of A Sight for Sore Eyes, p. 20; November 21, 1999, Marilyn Stasio, review of Harm Done, p. 80; March 3, 2002, Marilyn Stasio, review of Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, p. 21; August 4, 2002, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Blood Doctor, p. 19.

Publishers Weekly, August 16, 1991, p. 49; October 23, 1995; April 22, 1996, p. 61; July 29, 1996, review of Keys to the Street, p. 73; July 7, 1997, review of Road Rage, p. 53; February 8, 1999, review of A Sight for Sore Eyes, p. 197; October 18, 1999, review of Harm Done, p.73; November 13, 2000, review of Piranha to Scurfy and Other Stories, p. 89; January 28, 2002, review of Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, p. 274, interview with Ruth Rendell, p. 275; September 29, 2003, review of The Babes in the Wood, p. 46.

Saturday Review, January 30, 1971.

School Library Journal, March, 1997, Judy McAloon, review of The Keys to the Street, p. 216.

Seattle Times, February 10, 2002, Adam Woog, review of Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, p. J11.

Spectator, November 19, 1994, p. 47; October 4, 2003, Antonia Fraser, "And Now for My Next Trick…," review of The Rottweiler, p. 55.

Times (London, England), December 11, 1987; October 5, 1995.

Times Literary Supplement, February 23, 1967; December 21, 1967; April 23, 1970; October 1, 1976; June 5, 1981; July 23, 1982; October 7, 1994, p. 30.

Virginian Pilot, July 22, 2001, review of Grasshopper, p. E3.

Washington Post, May 19, 1992, p. B2.

Washington Post Book World, September 20, 1981; October 31, 1993.

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