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'I believe fiction should be pure,' [Ruth Rendell] says, 'but we live in a political age and I am a political person and so it can't help but get into the books in some form. I consciously put politics into the Inspector Wexford novels, but with my other books I don't unless I can't help it. The first one that has politics in it is The Veiled One, in which Wexford's daughter, Sylvia, cuts through wire on a nuclear missile base. It was written in the 1980s when CND was very active. I was involved in CND and it was a very serious time. I made Sylvia active in the movement and had Wexford showing sympathy but not support.' Wexford is a very popular character with liberal principles, who has developed through the series of novels.

'Men want to be like him,' says Rendell, 'and women fall in love with him. They write and ask me to kill off his wife! I deliberately gave him a stable background so that I could concentrate on the plot. He is a wise, thinking man and so if I make him support something it can have an effect. The first Wexford was influenced by Hillary Waugh, who wrote about a small American town, but I soon abandoned that style and Wexford's character changed. He was a tough cop, but has become more tolerant, liberal and kindly. I did decide not to write any more Wexfords because I had no more ideas, but then I thought of bringing in a strong political dimension and wrote Simisola, which deals with slavery, racism and unemployment. Wexford hadn't thought about racism before so I decided to make it strongly political. I thought I would get lots of angry, upset letters and that it wouldn't be popular, but I haven't had one letter of disapprobation. Every letter has been from people who like it and it's sold better than any of my other books, in spite of the political views.'
    -INTERVIEW: Confessions of a Crime Writer (Anthea Davey, Red Pepper)

The Wife and I are big fans of BBC mysteries and have been catching up on older ones via Netflix and Peerflix, so we gave the. Ruth Rendell Inspector Wexford Mysteries a try. Unfortunately, the only two currently available on DVD are Simisola and Road Rage which Ms Rendell was at the peak of her above-mentioned PC phase and they're pretty awful. In Simisola, Wexford improbably allows himself to be mau-maued by a missing black girl's family and in Road Rage he's respectful of a gang of ecoterrorists, until they take his wife anyway.... The politics is so insipid The Wife couldn't take it anymore and stopped watching, but I like George Baker, as Wexford, and Christopher Ravenscroft, as Mike Burden, enough that I sat through to the end. I've purposely avoided that stretch of novels in the series and find that, while Ms Rendell's politics are indeed at war with the character she's created, they can be read for enjoyment.

An Unkindness of Ravens is a nice entry because, while it does feature a gang of radical feminists, Wexford views them with at least a somewhat jaundiced eye. Shake Hands Forever is a treat because the physically intimidating and seemingly always in control Wexford becomes obsessed with solving a case where he's up against a deadline and it really gets to him. And, Babes in the Wood,, one of the latest entries, would appear to represent a somewhat conscious return to a more straightforward and less polemical police procedural. In the last, a subordinate describes the Wexford conundrum:
How was it find such irreconcilables bunched together in one man's character? How could one man be liberal, compassionate, sensitive, well-read and at the same time ribald, derisive, sardonic, and flippant about serious things?
I'm of the opinion that like many an author before her--from Cervantes to Graham Greene--Ms Rendell has created a great conservative character who stubbornly refuses to bend to the liberal template she keeps trying to force him into. His socialist sensibilities therefore come across as either wholly phony or as an attempt to be something he obviously isn't. The result is a frequent dissonance in a series that could have been great but is merely intermittently good.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Ruth Rendell Links:

    -Ruth Rendell (Wikipedia)
    -CONTEMPORARY WRITERS: Ruth Rendell (British Arts Council)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Ruth Rendell (
    -Demons In Her View: The Ruth Rendell Information Site
    -Ruth Rendell (Ine Jacet)
    -FILM SITE: Tabard Road: The Ruth Rendell Mysteries
    -AUTHOR SITE: Ruth Rendell (Books at Random)
    -Yahoo Group: Ruth Rendell
    -ESSAY: You don't have to be a great reader to enjoy my latest crime novel. Just a brave one (Ruth Rendell, 26/02/2006, Daily Telegraph)
    -ARCHIVES: "ruth rendell" (BBC)
-ARCHIVES: "ruth rendell" (NPR)
    -ARCHIVES: "ruth rendell" (Find Articles)
    -INTERVIEW: Her dark materials: Ruth Rendell had a terrible childhood and her adulthood has been tempestuous. But does this help to explain her twin obsessions, psychopaths and punctuality? (Marianne Macdonald, 11/04/2005, Daily Telegraph)
    -DIALOGUE: After Agatha: P.D. James and Ruth Rendell discuss the development of crime writing since the age of Agatha Christie, and why it deserves to be taken as seriously as ‘mainstream’ fiction (Royal Society of Literature)
    -DISCUSSION: Whodunnit and why we do it: P. D. James and Ruth Rendell, the reigning queens of crime fiction, talk about its enduring appeal, how they write and some of their predecessors from the ‘golden age’ (Times of London, 2/18/06)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Ruth Rendell, author of The Babes in the Wood, The Rottweiler, and Demon in My View, speaks with Don Swaim about her writing (Wired for Books)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Ruth Rendell (The Women's Hour, 27 April 2005, BBC)
    -INTERVIEW: Ruth Rendell on A Judgement In Stone (BBC World Service program World Book Club, August 28 2003)
    -INTERVIEW: Ruth Rendell discusses Thirteen Steps Down (All Things Considered, October 9 2005)
    -INTERVIEW: Confessions of a Crime Writer (Anthea Davey, Red Pepper)
    -INTERVIEW: A Conversation with: RUTH RENDELL (Womankind, 1994)
    -ARTICLE: Author questions 'racism' in theatre (BBC, 10/31/02)
    -PROFILE: THE PRIME OF BARONESS RENDELL: Thieves love the writer Ruth Rendell - she's been burgled four times in recent years. The queen of crime tells Emily Bearn that at least it means meeting real policemen. (Emily Bearn, 20 June 2002, The Daily Telegraph)
    -PROFILE: CREEPING VINE: For many years the crime writer Ruth Rendell has also written dark psychological thrillers under the name of Barbara Vine. Now some say that Vine is taking over Rendell. But do the two names really reflect a divided self? (William Leith, 5 September 1999, The Independent)
    -PROFILE: Whodunit?: The rebranding of Ruth Rendell (Boris Kachka, October 17, 2005, New York Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell (Jana L. Perskie, Mostly Fiction)
    -REVIEW: of The Veiled One by Ruth Rendell (Josh Rubins, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Road Rage by Ruth Rendell (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Road Rage (JP, Mystery Guide)
    -REVIEW: of Harm Done by Ruth Rendell (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Babes in the Woods by Ruth Rendell (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Babes in the Wood (Harriet Waugh, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of The Babes in the Wood (Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of End in Tears by Ruth Rendell (Susanna Yager, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of End in Tears (Hillary Spurling, Times of London)
    -REVIEW: of End in Tears (Frances Fyfield, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of End in Tears (Peter Guttridge, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Heartstones by Ruth Rendell (Andrea Stevens, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Talking to Strange Men by Ruth Rendell (Alida Becker, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Bridesmaid by Barbara Vine (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of No Night is Too Long by Barbara Vine (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Brimstone Wedding by Barbara Vine (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Keys to the Street by Ruth Rendell (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A Sight for Sore Eyes by Ruth Rendell (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Grasshopper by Barbara Vine (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Adam and Eve and Pinch Me by Ruth Rendell (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Blood Doctor by Barbara Vine (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of the Rottweiler by Ruth Rendell (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Rottweiler (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Rottweiler (Charles Taylor, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of The Rottweiler (Samantha Holland, BBC)
    -REVIEW: of The Rottweiler (Antonia Fraser, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Thirteen Steps Down by Ruth Rendell (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Thirteen Steps Down (Mary Campbell, Associated Press)
    -REVIEW: of Thirteen Steps Down (Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of Thirteen Steps Down (Laura Miller, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of The Minotaur, by Barbara Vine (Laura Wilson, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Minotaur (Tom Williams, The Observer )
    -REVIEW: of The Minotaur (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Minotaur (Christopher Bray, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of The Babes in the Wood by Ruth Rendell (Complete Review)

-FILMOGRAPHY: Ruth Rendell (
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Ruth Rendell (NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of Simisola (David Krauss, digitallyObsessed)
    -REVIEW: of The Ruth Rendell Mysteries (Screen Online)

Inspector Wexford Mysteries:

From Doon With Death (1964)
Wolf to the Slaughter (1967)
The Best Man to Die (1969)
A New Lease of Death (1969)
A Guilty Thing Surprised (1970)
No More Dying Then (1971)
Murder Being Once Done (1972)
Some Lie and Some Die (1973)
Shake Hands Forever (1975)
A Sleeping Life (1979)
Put on by Cunning (1981)
The Speaker of Mandarin (1983)
An Unkindness of Ravens (1985)
The Veiled One (1988)
Kissing the Gunner's Daughter (1992)
Simisola (1994)
Road Rage (1997)
Harm Done (1999)
The Babes in the Wood (2002)
End in Tears (2005)

Book-related and General Links: