Very sad to hear that Ruth Rendell died yesterday, aged 85, following a stroke in January, from which she never properly recovered. With her first book ‘From Doon to Death’ published in 1964, Ruth was the first of a new generation of detective writers, who had moved on, from what Lucy Worsley in ‘A Very British Murder’ called the ‘Golden Age’ , towards modern character-led fiction. Her writing fell into three categories: crime stories featuring teddy bear DCI Reg Wexford, other crime stories and non-detective fiction which she wrote under the pen-name Barbara Vine. Much has got into print over the last twenty-four hours about how Ruth liked to explore the ‘dark side’ of human nature and I know people who won’t touch her books because they are too dark. Usually I am the first one to be squeamish and always wary of what may be called ‘psychological thrillers’, but Ruth, like Dickens, always knew how far to go and when to draw back.
Ruth was one of an interesting gang of female crime writers living in East Anglia, albeit at different times: Dorothy Sayers (Witham), Margery Allingham (Tolleshunt D’Arcy) and PD James (Southwold). Even though Reg Wexford lived in Sussex (although Ruth had no connections there that I know of) and later in West London, places in northern Essex and southern Suffolk, close to where Ruth spent her adult life, also feature in many of her stories. Equally sadly, PD James died just a few months ago, in November. I understand that the two were great friends, both of them attending the House of Lords regularly, on opposite benches – Ruth Labour, Phyllis Conservative.
Ruth, a churchgoer, would understand that in the midst of death we are in life. (Yes, I know I’ve quoted that the wrong way round!) Many congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of their little girl, also yesterday. No name yet, but whatever they select will be top of the name pops for next year. Wills and Kate, consider all the poor teachers who, for the next eighteen years, will have several girls with The Name in every class. Think particularly of teachers in Essex, and how whatever you choose will sound with an Estuarian accent. And you wouldn’t put a Princess on Board on your back windscreen, would you? (No, that would be really just too Essex.)