Monday, May 24, 2021

A Ruth Rendell Paperback Bonanza


Ruth Rendell was one of the first mystery and crime writers whose new books I could hardly wait to get my hands on every year. Rendell was, of course, the author of the Inspector Wexford series, but she also wrote dozens of standalone crime novels and short stories under her own name or using the pen name Barbara Vine. When Rendell died in May 2015 she even left behind a "just completed" manuscript that was published a few months later as her last novel, Dark Corners. I reviewed that novel in June 2016, but I think that's the last post exclusively dedicated to Ruth Rendell that I ever wrote. And I'm not the only one who seems to have done that because I can't remember the last time I've seen her featured in a book blog or in one of the few remaining newspaper literary supplements still out there.

I've been thinking for a while that I want to go back and re-read a few of the Ruth Rendell novels I purchased over the years. I have almost twenty Rendell/Vine hardcovers on my shelves, but I remembered also buying dozens of her novels in paperback - and the paperbacks were nowhere to be found. Then, just when I grew convinced that they had all been lost somewhere during all the packing, moving, and storing of books that I did in the nineties, I found them in a small, mislabeled box that had been put away in the depths of a closet for the better part of twenty years.

As you can see from the picture, there were about 35 Ruth Rendell or Barbara Vince novels in the box, including both her first standalone and the first Inspector Wexford novel. So now I have over 40 novels to choose from along with just about every short story she ever published. These days, I'm feeling an urge to go back and read the crime fiction pioneers and masters. Ruth Rendell was not one of the pioneers, but no one deserves to be called a master of the genre more than she does. I can't wait to enjoy the books again.

14 comments:

  1. It's like a bookish treasure trove! I've only read one of Ruth Rendell's books, but I liked it. I should read some more of her mysteries. Happy re-reading these! :)

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    1. She was really a good writer, Lark, and I almost always loved her novels. I'm a little afraid to go back and read them again for that very reason.

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  2. Well I checked and the last time I wrote about Ruth Rendell was in 2017 when I briefly reviewed No Man's Nightingale, which is the last but one Wexford I think. It's here if you're interested: https://read-warbler.blogspot.com/2017/08/various-titles.html
    After that, I believe I read The Vault, the last Wexford where he's walking around London. I loved both of them and must get around to reading more as they're rather different to the TV series, much more introspective. As to her Barbara Vine books I've just read a couple I think, again excellent. Good selection you've got there, Sam.

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    1. It was quite a find, Cath, because I was sure they were lost to me forever.

      The Barbara Vine novels are more "psychological" in nature, and I think that's the yardstick by which Rendell decided which name they would be published under. Some of them are among my favorites.

      I watched an old Wexford episode last night...maybe the first one I've ever seen...and I was struck by how gruff and rude the Wexford character was when meeting witnesses and the public. I don't remember the books portraying him quite that way, and that's another reason I want to go back and read some of those.

      Now, I'm off to take a look at the review you referenced...

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  3. Wow, what a great find. I become obsessed with the search when I know something is in the house and I can't stop looking until I find it.

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    1. Nothing bugs me more, Diane, than being able to picture something I used to have so perfectly in my mind without being able to find it. I go through a "make room" spell every so often where I throw things out only to go looking for them years later and being disappointed. I had given up on these turning up and only opened the old box by accident.

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  4. A treasure trove of comfort reading. Congratulations on your find. I read some of Rendell/Vine books years ago, but nothing recently. Maybe it's time I revisited her, too.

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    1. I'm a little nervous about re-reading the books because there's always the chance that my good memories will end up being tarnished. I've had that happen in the past with other favorites, but not all that often, actually. I may start up with some of her Wexford short stories.

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  5. I'm not one for rereading because I've had some wonderful reading memories blown to smithereens by rereading a favorite book. I did try reading Rendell a couple of decades ago and didn't think much of her writing. It could be that I wasn't ready for her yet, and I'm willing to give her another try.

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    1. I've found that Rendell's earlier novels, those from the sixties, in particular, read a bit old-fashioned when it comes to writing style even though the mysteries themselves are generally first-rate. To me, she really hit her stride in the early '90s and only got better from that point.

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  6. I read all of the Inspector Wexford novels except the very last one. (Well, to correct that I think I discovered some written in the 1980s or early 90s that I had missed.) When I reread a very early one I did not like it so well, but I still think the later ones are good. I never read many of her stand alone books, they were too tense for me. I read some of her short stories recently that I really liked.

    Finding that box hidden away must have been a thrill.

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    1. I think that's right, Tracy. To me, her earliest novels are a little stiff, but that changes over time. I'm re-reading the fourth Wexford right now, "The Best Man to Die" from 1969, and I'm finding that to be the case with this one. Looks like I've read 14 of the 24 Wexford novels, but I remember embarrassingly little about the details of any of them. BTW, the last Wexford, "No Man's Nightingale," was written in 2013.

      I see that I've read 21 of her 28 standalones, and for some reason, I remember a lot more about the plots of those, especially the last few. Her Barbara Vine novels (there are 14 of those) are pretty fast-moving and tend to be more thriller than mystery. I really like those, too.

      As you say, I really was thrilled by the discovery of that box.

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  7. I've never read anything by Rendell. I've been meaning to for a long time and just never got around to it. Where should I start, do you think?

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    1. I think it would be best to choose one from the mid-to-late nineties, maybe, in order to get a good taste of what the bulk of Rendell's novels are like, Susan. (my notes indicate that the first one of hers I read was a standalone called "The Tree of Hands," but I think I chose it more for the cover than for anything else.)

      She had such a long, and relatively proficient, career that I can't help but think her writing grows on just about any mystery fan over time.

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