"I think about death every day - what it would be like, why it would happen to me. It would be humiliating to be afraid." -- Ruth Rendell
Ruth Barbara Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, CBE, (born 17 February 1930), who also writes under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, is a English crime writer, author of psychological thrillers and murder mysteries.
In addition to police procedurals starring her most iconic creation, Chief Inspector Wexford, Rendell writes 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 grandmother's maiden name). 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. Rendell is famous for her elegant prose and sharp insights into the human mind, as well as her ability to create cogent plot and characters. Rendell has also 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.
Rendell has received many awards for her writing, 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.
"I really do literally put myself into a character's shoes.""I think to be driven to want to kill must be such a terrible burden.""I try, and I think I succeed, in making my readers feel sorry for my psychopaths, because I do.""I've had two proposals since I've been a widow. I am a wonderful catch, you know. I have a lot of money.""The knives of jealousy are honed on details.""While most of the things you've worried about have never happened, it's a different story with the things you haven't worried about. They are the ones that happen."
Born in South Woodford, London, the daughter of teachers, Ruth (Barbara), née Grasemann, was educated at the County High School for Girls in Loughton, Essex. She then worked as a journalist for Essex newspapers. She was fired after writing an article on the local Tennis Club's annual dinner, which she had not actually attended, thereby missing the untimely death of the after-dinner speaker mid-speech. She 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. Wexford's most recent case is The Monster in the Box, released in October 2009. It is also widely rumoured to be Wexford's last case.
The Inspector Wexford series was successfully televised, starring acclaimed British actor George Baker as Inspector Wexford and Christopher Ravenscroft as Detective Mike Burden, with 48 episodes from 1987 to 2000.
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. Chabrol also 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; The Tree of Hands, directed by Giles Foster for Granada with Lauren Bacall; and another version of The Tree of Hands, Betty Fisher et autres histoires (2001, aka Alias Betty), with screenplay and direction by Claude Miller.