Like so many others I was saddened last week to read that Ruth Rendell, author of over 60 best-selling novels, has been hospitalised after a serious stroke. I was thinking about her just a few days beforehand, whilst packing my large collection of her books for our move. She has accompanied me ever since I started reading crime novels, way back sometime in the seventies.
Hers are books I read and re-read, in fact most of them, being paperbacks, are very much the worse for wear now. The Wexford series are the best-known, and it was always a treat to buy another and read a little further into Wexford’s life – his family played a big part in most of the books too. We got to know him and his long-suffering wife Dora, and their daughters who were youngsters at the beginning of the series and moved on through turbulant teenage years, marriage, motherhood, problems – it all seemed so normal.
Of the non-Wexford books, my favourite has to be The Tree of Hands. A young mother takes her son to hospital… and ends the book by making a Sophie’s Choice kind of decision about her life. The finale is both heart-breaking and realistic – I’m sure I would have done the same.
As well as the books written under her own name, Ruth Rendell has penned a number of darker, psychological novels as Barbara Vine. A Dark-Adapted Eye is one, and The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy, but I think my own favourite amongst these books is The Blood Doctor. Martin’s great-grandfather was Queen Victoria’s favoured physician… but what was he hiding?
Over sixty books – that’s an incredible achievement. Last year there was a new Barbara Vine book, The Child’s Child, which I thoroughly enjoyed, as well as a non-Wexford novel The Girl Next Door, which I haven’t read yet. And there’s another on the way this autumn too.
I know I’ll never write as many novels as Ruth Rendell and I’ll never be as successful as she is, nor stocked in as many libraries, but I really hope that I can do what she has done – keep on writing. And I hope that in spite of the setback of a stroke, she continues to enjoy her life and her books for a long time to come.
(Ruth Rendell died 2.05.15. R.I.P)