Ruth Rendell

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Reg Wexford - Detective Chief Inspector, middle-age, London, England

"From Doon with Death"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie MAY 7, 2005)

"They're such good books, Mike, not the sort of things anyone would give to a church sale, and church sales seem to have been about Mrs. Parsons' mark. Look at this lot; Omar Khyyam; Whitman's Leaves of Grass; William Morris. Unless I'm much mistaken that Omar Khyyam costs three or four pounds. And there's another one here, the Verses of Walter Savage Landor. It's an old fashioned kind of book and the leaves haven't even been cut." He read the message on the fly-leaf aloud:  

"I promise to bring back with me/ What thou with transport will receive,/ The only proper gift for thee/ Of which no mortal shall bereave. Rather apt, don't you think, Minna? Love from Doon. March 21st, 1951."

From Doon With Death is Ruth Rendell's first novel, and also marks the literary debuts of protagonists Chief Inspector Reg Wexford, and his partner in crime-solving, Inspector Mike Burden. At this somewhat late date in life, I thought it about time I explore Ms. Rendell's mysteries, and her psychological thrillers, which receive such rave reviews. My recent introduction to the author's works began with From Doon With Death. I believe in starting at the beginning.

Now I understand what all the fanfare is about. This is an excellent mystery - and it is only her first effort. I know she has matured greatly as a writer in the forty plus years since she published this book in 1964. I look forward to following her development as a writer as I continue to read her books, authored under the name of Barbara Vine, as well as Ruth Rendell.

Margaret Parsons and her husband of six years, Ronald, have recently moved to Kingsmarkham in Sussex. They are a happily married, rather introverted couple, and keep to themselves most of the time. Although Margaret is a lay preacher at the local Methodist Church, and has some acquaintances there, the two have not made any friends yet. They are definitely not wealthy and live a very frugal existence. Ronald works for the Southern Water Board at Stowerton and Margaret is a homemaker, a good one too. Their large, ugly house, is not well constructed, nor does it have a refrigerator, washing machine or other modern conveniences. It does contain, however, a small but very expensive collection of
Victorian literature and poetry, bound in suede, scented leather and watered silk. All are inscribed, on the fly leaves, from Doon to Minna, and the messages are personal, romantic, and intense, to say the least.

At the book's beginning, a frantic Ronald Parsons telephones Inspector Mike Burden, a neighbor, to tell him that his wife hasn't come home that evening. The body of the thirty-two year-old woman, is found the next day, strangled in a near-by wood. She had left home with only her keys and purse, not even her coat. When the valuable book collection is discovered in a trunk in the attic, the investigation takes on a new nature. Who are Minna and Doon? And who was Margaret Parsons?

Although the seemingly prim and proper Mrs. Parsons is dead when the story begins, the author paints a vivid portrait of the victim in retrospect, through the testimonies of those questioned in connection to the crime. Chief Inspector Wexford, with his countrified ways and off-beat humor, is a meticulous detective, if somewhat eccentric. Inspector Burden, also very competent, makes a wonderful straightman and side-kick. The narrative is taut, the characters diverse and original, and the mystery suspenseful. I couldn't figure out who did it. Ms. Rendell also writes a scathing commentary about the idle rich. This is a book that stands the test of time and continues to rivet its readers. I highly recommend it.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 23 reviews


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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Inspector Wexford Mysteries: Standalone Mysteries & Psychological Thrillers: Collections: Movies from books:

 

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About the Author:

Ruth RendellRuth Rendell was born in 1930 of parents who were both school teachers. After graduating fro Loughton County High School, Ruth worked as a reporter and sub-editor on several local newspapers. She married journalist Don Rendell when she was twenty and gave birth to her only son, in 1953, three years later. (The couple divorced in 1975 and remarried two years later.) For a decade she attempted numerous genres, but remained unpublished until 1964, when From Doon to Death introduced dectective Inspector Reginald Wexford. In four decades, she had published nearly 50 crime novels and short story collections, including the novels she started publishing in the 1980s under the name Barbara Vine.

She has won many awards, including the Crime Writer's Association Gold Dagger for A Demon in my View (1976), an Edgar in 1984 for the best short story, The New Girl Friend, and a Gold Dagger award for Live Flesh in 1986.  In 1990, she won the Times Literary award and the Crime Writer's Association Cartier Diamond Dagger for outstanding contribution to genre.  In 1996 she was awarded the CBE and in 1997 became a Life Peer in the House of Lords.

Ruth lives in London.

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