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Rediscovering Ruth Rendell: masters suspense

Updated on February 24, 2018
dahoglund profile image

Don has worked in newspaper writing, business writing, and technical writing.


Ruth Rendell has always had very suspenseful mystery stories.For some people, they are overpowering.

From Doon With Death

Scan of book
Scan of book

From Doon With Death

I like to browse, especially at libraries. I do use the inter-library loan system a great deal, but I still like to scan the shelves for that serendipity discovery. While browsing the new mysteries at my local library I found a book by Ruth RendellFrom Doon with Death.” This was her first book, published in 1964. I don’ know why it was with the new mysteries. Possible because the book had the copyright renewed in 2007.

In college days I took a liking to the mystery genre. At that time it was not entirely respectable as we were still in the pulp magazine days, although not for long. Needless to say critics who tended to scorn genre literature did not treat mystery writers with respect. Ruth Rendell started writing shortly after this time, and is a writer who has won many mystery writers’ awards.

I had read several of her mysteries in the past and was always taken with the suspense she engendered. I took out this book because I was curious what her first work was like.

From Doon With Death was Rendell's literary debut of her protagonists Chief Inspector Wexford and his “Watson” partner Inspector Mike Burden. Although her later books became more complex, her first book is an excellent mystery. She has justly been noted for her excellent prose and suspense. Each word and phrase logically leads to the next. Little in the way of wasted words.

The setting is Kings markham in Sussex England. Margaret Parsons and her husband of six years have just moved there, although Margaret had grown up there. The couple generally keep to themselves. They are rather poor and live in an unattractive house, which she tries to keep livable. Oddly she has a collection of Victorian literature and inscriptions on the fly leafs-from Doon to Minna.The messages are personal and intense.

In the beginning of the mystery Ronald Parsons calls Inspector Burden, a neighbor that his wife is missing. Mrs. Parsons who appears prim and proper is dead but turns out to be more mysterious as the story comes out. Inspector Wexford, the provincial policeman doggedly digs up clues. In many ways, I see Wexford as the anti-Sherlock Holmes who scorned the dogged work of the official police. Wexford goes on to solve crimes in twenty some later mystery books.

Ruth Rendell was born February 17, 1930 in South Woodford, London. Both of her parents were teachers and she was educated in County High School for Girls in Houghton, Essex. She worked as a Journalist for Essex newspapers. When she wrote an article about a Tennis Club dinner which she had not attended and missed the death of the after dinner speaker, she was fired. She wrote two unpublished novels before her first publication.

Her work habits reflect a controlled regulated life. She wakes up and writes for four hours every day and eats the same lunch, thinks up her stories when she walks. She has moved often and lived in various places.

Barbara Vine

Noted for psychological thrillers and murder mysteries, she is famous for her elegant prose and insights into the human mind and  creates exceptional plots and characters. She has received Silver, Gold, and Cartier Diamond Daggers from the crime writer’s association, three Edgars from the mystery Writer’s Of America, The Arts Council National Book Awards, and the Sunday Times Literary Award.  Her  work has been adapted to film and television.

 In 1997 she became a life Peer as Baroness Rendell of Babergh a life Peer as Baroness Rendell of Babergh in Suffolk in 1997. She sits in the House of Lords for Labour.

In addition to the Chief inspector Wexford books and other short stories non-fiction and novels under her own name and also writes under the pen name of Barbara Vine. Under the Rendell name she tends to write clever plots about provincial police procedure. As Vine her stories are darker and deal with ordinary people who have physic problems and can become killers. She says that she could not write the Vine stories as Rendell, but cannot explain why.

Her later works are morre aware of changes in society and her plots over the years have reflected that change. “Road Rage”, for example, has a plot centered on ecology and a kidnapping by eco-terrorists.


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    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Peggy W

      I don't know why I failed to answer your comment earlier. I am glad if this introduced you to som future reading. Thanks for the comment.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Research Analyst,

      Thanks for stopping by and the complement.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I was unfamiliar but thanks to you I now know about an author of whom I would probably enjoy reading her works. Sounds like something I would enjoy. Thanks!

    • Research Analyst profile image

      Research Analyst 

      8 years ago

      great writing, love reading your hubs

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I didn't know about Vine until I researched this. However, I've always enjoyed Rendell.

    • profile image

      Bill Kinghorn 

      8 years ago

      I think Minette Walters is my favorite though I've read only a few authors. Barbara Vine is sometimes horrifying enough to cause a story to be abandoned.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I believe she still has a following among mystey buffs.

    • michiganman567 profile image


      8 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks for sharing. I am sure that there are thousands of great writers that are forgotten. Ruth Rendell is probably one that I would have never heard of without your hub.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting

    • creativeone59 profile image

      benny Faye Douglass 

      8 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

      Thank myou ndahoglund for a great hub, thank you for sharing it. Godspeed. creativeone59


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