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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Baroness Rendell of Babergh

Rendell in August 2007
Rendell in August 2007
BornRuth Barbara Grasemann
(1930-02-17)17 February 1930
South 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.


Rendell was born 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. However, she was forced to resign after filing a story about a local sports club dinner she hadn't attended and failing to report that the after-dinner speaker had died midway through the speech.[5]

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 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.

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]


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.[12][13] She was also a patron of the charity Kids for Kids[14] 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.[15]


Rendell had a stroke on 7 January 2015[16] and died on 2 May 2015.[17]

Developing the thriller genre

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.[18] The Monster in the Box, released in October 2009, was widely suggested to be Wexford's last case.[19] This was incorrect; however, it was the final novel featuring Wexford as an employed policeman: in the novel that followed, The Vault, he had retired.[20]

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.[21]

Adaptations of her works

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."[18] Many of her other works have been adapted for film and television. She said that 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.[22] 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;[23] 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. Francois Ozon's 2015 film The New Girlfriend was based on Rendell's short story of the same name.[24] Two episodes of Tales of the Unexpected were based on Rendell's short stories.

Awards and honours

Coat of arms of Ruth Rendell
Rendell of Babergh Achievement.png
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 [26]
Commander of the Order of the British Empire


Inspector Wexford series

Standalone novels


  • Thornapple (1982).[27] Collected in The Fever Tree
  • Heartstones (1987). Uncollected
  • The Thief (2006). Collected in A Spot of Folly

Written as Barbara Vine

Short story collections

Uncollected short stories

  • "The Martyr", included in Midsummer Nights (Ed Jeanette Winterson), Quercus, 2009
  • "Paradise", in The Strand Magazine #11, 2003

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


  • 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)


  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
  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. ^ Ruth Rendell (1930–2015). IMDb
  13. ^ The Hutchinson Encyclopedia of Literature. Helicon Publishing, 2006.
  14. ^ "How We Are Run". 6 May 2015. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  15. ^ "Blue plaque unveiled for renowned and much-loved author Ruth Rendell". East London and West Essex Guardian Series. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  16. ^ "Ruth Rendell in critical condition after stroke". BBC News. 7 January 2015.
  17. ^ "Author Ruth Rendell dies aged 85". BBC News. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  18. ^ a b "Wexford is me, Ruth Rendell confesses". BBC News. 10 October 2011.
  19. ^ Walker, Tim (4 May 2009). "Ruth Rendell closes the book on Wexford but new drama beckons". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
  20. ^ Alison Flood. "Ruth Rendell: a life in writing | Books". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  21. ^ Vanessa Thorpe (17 August 2013). "Ruth Rendell: 'Withholding information from the reader should be part of any story'". The Guardian.
  22. ^ anxietyresister (24 April 1987). "A Judgment in Stone (1986)". IMDb.
  23. ^ "Ruth Rendell returns to ITV after 12 years with a dark thriller". 6 August 2012.
  24. ^[bare URL]
  25. ^ "Novels up for 'lost' Booker Prize". BBC News. 1 February 2010.
  26. ^ Debrett's Peerage. 2000.
  27. ^ Published in Academy Mystery Novellas, Volume 5: Women Write Murder, Martin H. Greenberg and Edward D. Hoch, editors. 1987

Further reading

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

This page was last edited on 10 June 2021, at 08:01
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