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Ruth Rendell, 85, called Britain’s ‘queen of crime’
Ruth Rendell, a prolific British novelist who brought a new sense of psychological tension to her crime fiction, which often explored contemporary social and sexual themes, died Saturday at a hospital in London. She was born Feb. 17, 1930, and died at 85.
Rendell was considered one of the foremost writers of crime fiction in recent decades, with more than 60 books to her credit.
She and her friend P.D. James, who died in November, were often called Britain’s “queens of crime,” although both despised the title.
Rendell wrote under two names and in three distinct styles.
She published more than 20 novels set in the English countryside that featured her imperturbable detective, Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford.
She also wrote dozens of dark suspense novels that seemed to peer inside the murderer’s state of mind.
Beginning in the 1980s, she published a series of books under the name Barbara Vine, in which she explored sometimes shocking psychological obsessions or sexual behavior.
In whatever form she chose, Rendell was admired for her careful plotting, descriptions and the rich complexity of her characters.
Rendell’s first novel, “From Doon With Death” (1964), introduced Wexford, the stoic, scholarly detective from the fictional Kingsmarkham, a Sussex town with an exceptionally high murder rate.
The Wexford novels are straightforward police procedurals, but over the years they touched on the problems of the modern world, including urban sprawl, youthful re- bellion, feminism and social hierarchy.
“I don’t get sick of him because he’s me,” she told Britain’s Guardian newspaper in 2013. “He doesn’t look like me, of course, but the way he thinks and his principles and his ideas and what he likes doing, that’s me.”
Ruth Barbara Grasemann was born Feb. 17, 1930, in London. Her mother was Swedish, and both parents became teachers.
A woman of remarkable self-discipline, Rendell exercised for 30 minutes each morning before sitting down to write at 8:30.In 1997, Rendell was named a baroness, which gave her a seat in the House of Lords. She was outspokenly liberal and contributed 100,000 pounds (about $150,000) a year to charities.