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Ruth Rendell: 1930-2015

As many of you likely know, Mystery legend Ruth Rendell passed away last Saturday. She was 85.

Words like legend and icon are often tossed about without much care, but Ruth Rendell is worthy of each. Her writing career spans six decades, consisting of 64 novels and a number of short story collections, and saw her accumulate awards the some people do shoes. Among her awards/honors are 3 Edgars (Mystery Writers of America), 4 Gold Daggers (Crime Writers’ Association),the Silver Dagger, The Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement (Mystery Writers of America), Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence and Cartier Diamond Dagger for a Lifetime’s Achievement in the Field (Crime Writers’ Association). On top of that, she was granted a life peer and was made Baroness Rendell of Babergh AND a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Awards are great, but how many become a Baroness??

Her best known creation was Inspector Wexford, who first appeared in FROM DOON WITH DEATH (1964), her debut novel, and was featured in 24 novels total. She wrote 28 stand alones under her own name and another 12 with the nom de plume Barbara Vine.

In addition to her writing, she was a passionate activist for a number of humanitarian causes, notably fighting to stop female genital mutilation, speak out against racism and sexism and preached total equality for all. She was not shy about her politics and was made a Labour peer for The House of Commons.

Val McDermid, for The Guardian, wrote a touching memorial. Here is an excerpt:

We still have the books, of course. What we’ve lost is the woman at the heart of them. Her shrewd assessments of herself and of others were always refreshing; her company always stimulating.

New York Times critic and NPR contributor Maureen Corrigan had this to say:

What made Rendell extraordinary was her consummate simplicity. As a writer, she was akin to the medieval artist Giotto — or at least to the apocryphal story about Giotto, who, when asked to submit a sample of his work to the pope, proceeded to dip a brush in red paint and draw a perfect circle freehand. Likewise, Rendell flawlessly executed the basic elements of the classic British detective novel.

Her final novel, DARK CORNERS, is scheduled to be published in October in the U.K. and December in the U.S.