Born Ruth Barbara Grasemann, February 17, 1930, in London, England; daughter of Arthur (a teacher) and Ebba Elise (a teacher; maiden name, Kruse) Grasemann; married Donald John Rendell, 1950 (divorced, 1975; remarried, 1977; died, 1999); children: Simon.
Addresses: Agent—Sterling Lord Agency, 660 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10021. Contact—11 Maida Ave., Little Venice, London W2 1SR United Kingdom; Cherry Tree Cottage, Groton, Suffolk, United Kingdom. Home—26 Cornwall Terrence, Mews, London NW1 5LL United Kingdom. Office—House of Lords, London SW1A 0PW United Kingdom.
Began writing at the age of 15; reporter, Chigwell Times, England, 1948–52; published first novel, the beginning of the Inspector Wexford series, From Doom to Death, 1964; published first novel under Barbara Vince pseudonym, A Dark-Adapted Eye, 1985; published twentieth Wexford novel, End in Tears, 2005.
Awards: Edgar Allan Poe Award, Mystery Writers of America, for "The Fallen Curtain," 1974; Edgar Allan Poe Award, Mystery Writers of America, for The Fallen Curtain and Other Stories, 1976; Gold Dagger Award, Crime Writers Association, for A Demon in My View, 1977; Arts Council National Book Award for genre fiction, 1981; British Arts Council bursary, 1981; British National Book Award, for The Lake of Darkness, 1981; Popular Culture Association Award, 1983; Silver Dagger Award, Crime Writers Association, for The Tree of Hands, 1984; Edgar Allan Poe Award, Mystery Writers of America, for "The New Girlfriend," 1984; Edgar Allan Poe Award, Mystery Writers of America, for A Dark-Adapted Eye, 1986; Gold Dagger Award, Crime Writers Association, for Live Flesh, 1986; Gold Dagger Award, Crime Writers Association, for A Fatal Inversion, 1987; Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence, 1990; Gold Dagger Award, Crime Writers Association, 1991; Diamond Dagger Award, 1991; named Commander of the British Empire, 1996; given peerage and joined House of Lords, 1997.
Known as the "Queen of Crime," British mystery/suspense author Ruth Rendell has been publishing novels since 1964. She has produced about one to two books per year, and sold at least 20 million copies of more than 60 novels translated into 25 languages worldwide. Rendell began her writing career with the Inspector Wexford series, but evolved over time to embrace psychological thrillers and suspense novels with a social and political conscience. Fellow acclaimed mystery author P.D. James told Michael Neill of People, "No one has explored with greater sensitivity and compassion those dark recesses of the human psyche. She is one of the remarkable novelists of her generation."
Born in 1930 in London, Rendell was the daughter of Arthur and Ebba Grasemann, who both worked as teachers. Raised in the suburban area east of London called Leyton, she was the only child of an unhappy marriage. Her mother was a native of Sweden who suffered from multiple sclerosis and died when Rendell was still young. Rendell created an inner self to deal with her difficult life at home. People's Neill quoted her as saying about the situation: "There was always a great deal of arguing, quarreling, shrieking, threatening. I hated it."
Receiving her education at Loughton County High School, Rendell began writing fiction, both short stories and novels, when she was 15 years old. She tried to get these stories published in women's magazines, but they were rejected. After completing her education, Rendell worked as a writer of a different kind. From 1948 to 1952, she worked as a reporter for the Chigwell Times, a small paper in a London suburb. Though she liked working as a journalist, she was a fiction writer inside. Of the experience, she told Gillian MacKay of Maclean's, "The facts weren't enough—I wanted to embroider them."
Rendell's job at the paper introduced her to her husband, Donald Rendell, who was her boss and fellow journalist. The couple married in 1950, and had their only child, Simon, in 1953. Leaving the paper before his birth, Rendell focused on her family, home, and writing unpublished novels for her own pleasure for several years. She did not try to get any of her novels published until the mid-1960s.
In 1964, Rendell published her novel, From Doom to Death, and was paid the equivalent of about $210 for the manuscript. The book was standard detective fiction, the genre of her writing in which the publishers were most interested. It also introduced the character of Reginald Wexford, a police chief inspector in the fictional village of Kindmarkham who loved books and his family. For the first decade of her writing career, most of her books were in the Wexford series, which developed a loyal fan following. The returning characters in the Wexford novels evolved over time, becoming richer and deeper, though still operating within the detective fiction genre.
Rendell used a specific technique to write her detective novels like those featuring Wexford. She worked out the plot idea and who will commit the crime before she started writing. She told Michael Hanlon of the Toronto Star, "I write intending this Perpetrator X in mind. I write without letting my readers know that it's X." But when she got to the last chapter, she usually found that someone else is the killer. Rendell told Hanlon, "If I can hide him from myself, I feel I can hide him or her from the reader."
As Rendell established herself as a writer with an expectant audience, she found the detective genre limiting in its form and began to branch out in the mid-1970s. She began writing psychological thrillers about psychopathic characters. The first was A Demon in My View. Published in 1977, the book was several awards. Rendell followed this with A Judgment in Stone. This novel was about an illiterate young maid who kills the family she works for when she grows angry because her employer insists on repeatedly leaving written notes for her.
Though Rendell continued to produce Wexford novels on a regular basis, she was writing more and more psychological fiction by the mid-1980s. As a writer in the Observer noted of the changing focus of her books, "Cast adrift from the comforting Wexford and his placid, home-making wife, nosing into the minds of psychopaths, rapists, child abusers, and murderers, free-falling through the strata of society to reach the world of the outcast and the obsessive, her books are chilling witnesses to how dangerous a place the world can be."
In 1986, Rendell took her evolution as a writer a step further when she began publishing a different kind of psychological suspense/thriller type of novel. She adopted the pseudonym Barbara Vine for these books. (Barbara is her middle name, while Vine was her great-grandmother's maiden name.) She found adopting another name gave her the freedom to break into new territory as a writer. She told Sarah Lyall of the New York Times, "It's more than another name; it's another identity. Once I was Barbara Vine, I could do something else."
The books published under the Vine name differed from the non-Wexford books published under Rendell's name in that her Vine novels focused on the mind of the criminal and those with pathological, sometimes obsessive, problems. The Vine novels were usually written from the criminal's first-person point-of-view and often had horrific aspects to them. The first Vine novel was A Dark-Adapted Eye, about a murder within a family. Another significant Vine title was 1991's King Solomon's Carpet, about a man who spends nearly all his time in the London Underground, the subway system, looking for concealed stations and unmarked lines.
While Rendell used the Vine pseudonym regularly, she still published psychological fiction under her own name as well. These novels were more about the crime itself as well as the person committing them. She wanted people to understand the horror of the crimes—and the people who commit them—to help change society and not allow people to deny the truths about such situations. To write such books, Rendell did no research into real-life serial killers nor did she meet known criminals face to face. Instead, she just read books on psychology and was sometimes inspired by conversations with her son, a psychiatric social worker who lived in Colorado. She told Jan Moir of the Ottawa Citizen, "You don't need to meet criminals. Your imagination does that for you. It's a bit disconcerting to think that because you can get into the mind of a psychopath and write about it, then people suppose you are like that yourself."
One of Rendell's best known psychological thrillers published under her name was 1986's Live Flesh, which was later adapted into a film by Pedro Almadovar. The story focuses on a rapist named Victor who does not feel any remorse. He is a sexual psychopath, and the novel gives readers an understanding of him from the inside out. A few years later, she published another psychologically intense novel about sex crime. The Bridesmaid, published in 1989, centers around Senta, a young woman who lures Phillip, a regular guy from a suburb of London, into her world of predatory sexuality. She insists obsessively that they both must murder someone to prove their love.
Throughout her career, Rendell received numerous honors. In 1991, she won her fourth Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger Award, a record. Rendell continued to publish challenging books as well. In 1993's The Crocodile Bird, for example, she explores the world of a traumatized mother who becomes a murderer. This mother will not let her daughter have any contact with everyday society. She isolates her daughter in a cabin in the country and kills all men who enter.
By the time Rendell celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of her publishing career in 1994, she was making changes to the Wexford novels. Wanting to break out of the detective genre conventions a little more, she changed the focus on the novels with 1995's Simisola. While still a detective novel, it also reflected the author's social and political concerns as the story touches on the devastating effect of unemployment and racism while a young woman's disappearance drives the book.
In 1994, Rendell published another novel under the Vine name with No Night Is Too Long. This novel focuses on Tim Cornish, a young man with literary ambitions who thinks he has gotten away with murder but might not have. Another significant Vine book was published four years later. The Chimney Sweeper's Boy is about a writer named Gerald Candless whose death by heart attack in chapter one is explored. His daughters learn he is not the man they thought he was as his writings reveal the depths of his terrible childhood which haunted the whole of his life.
Another significant honor came Rendell's way in the mid-1990s. In 1996, she was named Commander of the British Empire and a life peer. As a result, the following year, Rendell, now Baroness of Alderburgh, began serving in the House of Lords as a member of the Labour Party. Throughout her career, Rendell had used her position to further her charitable work and was an activist supporting environmental and social causes. She found a new forum for such activities in the House of Lords, where she voted regularly and helped reform the House itself over the next decade.
Though Rendell was politically active, she continued to produce books on a regular basis. By 1999, the books published under Rendell's name, including the Wexford series, were having more in common with the books she published as Vine. She even included her intimate knowledge of the House of Lords in the Vine novel The Blood Doctor, published in 2002. The book is narrated by a Lord Nanther, who explores his own family's past and learns of a murder while writing a biography of his great-grandfather.
Rendell continued to publish into the early 2000s, including 2004's Thirteen Steps Down. Set in London's Notting Hill, the novel focuses on Mix, who is not fully sane inside yet is rather bland outside, and his elderly landlady, Gwendolen Chawcer, who is withdrawn and odd. Mix has an obsession about a famous serial killer who once lived in the area, John Christie, and ends up committing murder himself. By 2005, Rendell sold more than 20 million copies of all of her books worldwide, with the 20 Wexford novels being best sellers, including 2005's End in Tears. This novel is about young mothers being murdered as well as a complicated situation involving a baby in Wexford's own life.
For the whole of her career, Rendell was very regimented in her writing. She wrote at home every morning for several hours, and, after joining in the House of Lords, spent every afternoon there when the Lords were in session. Rendell also often walked several miles per day, an exercise which helped her work out her stories. She claimed to write easily and never suffered from writer's block. Writing was always the focus of her life and was expected to be until her death. She told Moir in the Ottawa Citizen, "I don't feel that I churn anything out, ever. If I did, I would stop. I am quite happy to go on doing what I am doing now for the rest of my life. I don't see why I shouldn't."
Mystery novels featuring Inspector Wexford
From Doom to Death, John Long (London, England), 1964; Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1965.
Sins of the Father, 1967; published in the United States as A New Lease of Death, Doubleday, 1967.
Wolf to the Slaughter, John Long, 1967; Doubleday, 1968.
The Best Man to Die, John Long, 1969; Doubleday, 1970.
A Guilty Surprise, Doubleday, 1970.
No More Dying Then, Hutchinson, 1971; Doubleday, 1972.
Murder Being Once Done, Doubleday, 1972.
Some Lie and Some Die, Doubleday, 1973.
Shake Hands Forever, Doubleday, 1975.
A Sleeping Life, Doubleday, 1978.
Put On by Cunning, Hutchinson, 1981.
The Speaker of Mandarin, Pantheon, 1983.
An Unkindness of Ravens, Pantheon, 1985.
The Veiled One, Pantheon, 1988.
Kissing the Gunner's Daughter, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Simisola, Random House (New York, NY), 1995.
Road Rage, Crown (New York, NY), 1997.
Harm Done: An Inspector Wexford Mystery, Crown, 1999.
The Babes in the Wood, Crown, 2002.
End in Tears, Hutchinson, 2005; published in the United States as End in Tears: A Wexford Novel, Crown, 2006.
Other mystery novels
To Fear a Painted Devil, Doubleday, 1965.
Vanity Dies Hard, John Long, 1966; published in United States as In Sickness and in Health, Doubleday, 1966.
The Secret House of Death, John Long, 1968; Doubleday, 1969.
One Across, Two Down, Doubleday, 1971.
The Face of Trespass, Doubleday, 1974.
A Demon in My View, Doubleday, 1977.
A Judgment in Stone, Hutchinson, 1977; Doubleday, 1978.
Make Death Love Me, Doubleday, 1979.
The Lake of Darkness, Doubleday, 1980.
Death Notes, Pantheon, 1981.
Master of the Moor, Pantheon, 1982.
The Killing Doll, Pantheon, 1984.
The Tree of Hands, Pantheon, 1984.
Live Flesh, Pantheon, 1986.
Heartstones, Harper (New York, NY), 1987.
Talking to Strangers, Hutchinson, 1987; published in United States as Talking to Strange Men, Pantheon, 1987.
The Bridesmaid, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Going Wrong, Mysterious Press, 1990.
The Crocodile Bird, Crown, 1993.
Ginger and the Kingsmarkham Chalk Circle, Phoenix (London, England), 1996.
The Keys to the Street, Random House (New York, NY), 1996.
Whydunit (Perfectly Criminal 2), Seven House (London, England), 1997.
Bloodlines, Wheeler (Rockland, MA), 1997.
Thornapple, Travelman (London, England), 1998.
A Sight for Sore Eyes: A Novel, Crown, 1999.
Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, Crown, 2001.
The Rottweiler, Crown, 2003.
Thirteen Steps Down, Hutchinson, 2004; Crown, 2005.
The Water's Lovely, Hutchinson, 2006.
Short story collections
The Fallen Curtain and Other Stories, Hutchinson, 1976; published in United States as The Fallen Curtain: Eleven Mystery Stories by an Edgar Award-Winning Writer, Doubleday, 1976.
Means of Evil and Other Stories, Hutchinson, 1976; published in United States as Five Stories by an Edgar Winning-Winning Writer, Doubleday, 1980.
The Fever Tree and Other Stories, Hutchinson, 1979; published in United States as The Fever Tree and Other Stories of Suspense, Doubleday, 1980.
The New Girlfriend and Other Stories, Hutchinson, 1985; published in the United States as The New Girlfriend and Other Stories of Suspense, Pantheon, 1986.
The Copper Peacock and Other Stories, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1991.
Blood Lines: Long and Short Stories, Crown, 1996.
Piranha to Scurfy and Other Stories, Vintage (New York, NY), 2002.
Mystery novels (as Barbara Vine)
A Dark-Adapted Eye, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.
A Fatal Inversion, Bantam (New York, NY), 1987.
The House of Stairs, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1989.
Gallowglass, Harmony Books, 1990.
King Solomon's Carpet, Harmony Books, 1991.
Anna's Book, Harmony Books, 1993.
No Night Is Too Long, Harmony Books, 1994.
The Brimstone Wedding, Harmony Books, 1996.
The Chimney Sweeper's Boy: A Novel, Harmony Books, 1998.
Grasshopper, Harmony Books, 2000.
The Blood Doctor, Shaye Areheart Books (New York, NY), 2002.
The Minotaur, Viking (New York, NY), 2005.
Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, vol. 127, Thomson Gale, 2004, pp. 356-61.
Major 21st-Century Writers, vol. 4, Thomson Gale, 2005.
Peers and Members of the House of Lords, PMS Publications, Ltd., 1999.
Boston Globe, August 10, 2006, p. E9.
Independent (London, England), March 29, 1998, p. 31; September 5, 1999, pp. 4-5; June 15, 2002, pp. 30-31.
Maclean's, May 19, 1986, p. 63.
New York Times, April 10, 1995, p. C9; October 5, 2005, p. E1.
Observer, December 1, 1991, p. 25.
Ottawa Citizen, September 25, 1993, p. B5; November 13, 2004, p. F1.
People, December 18, 2005, p. 65.
StraitsTimes (Singapore), February 28, 2004.
Toronto Star, September 30, 1989, p. M12.
"Rendell, Ruth." Newsmakers 2007 Cumulation. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/journals/culture-magazines/rendell-ruth
"Rendell, Ruth." Newsmakers 2007 Cumulation. . Retrieved January 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/journals/culture-magazines/rendell-ruth
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