It was a brutal, vicious crime sixteen years old. A helpless old woman battered to death with an axe. Harry Painter hung for it, and Chief Inspector Wexford is certain they executed the right man.
But Reverend Archery has doubts . . . because his son wants to marry the murderers beautiful, brilliant daughter.
He begins unravelling the past, only to discover that murder breeds murder and often conceals even deeper secrets . . .
First released as A New Lease of Death in 1967. Rendell is classified as a writer of mysteries and crime thrillers, her elegant prose and superb literary skills elevate her far above the conventions of those genres. Born Ruth Barbara Grasemann in London in 1930, she attended the Loughton County High School for Girls in Essex, then went to work as a features writer for the Essex newspapers.
In 1950, she married her boss at the newspaper, journalist Donald Rendell. (They divorced in 1975, remarried two years later, and remained together until his death in 1999.) For the next decade, she juggled marriage, motherhood, and part-time writing. She produced at least two unpublished novels before hitting pay dirt in 1964 with From Doon with Death, the first mystery to feature Chief Inspector Reginald Reg Wexford of the Kingsmarkham Police Force.
An immediate bestseller, the book launched Rendells career and marked the beginning of one of the most successful and enduring series in detective fiction. In 1965, Rendell published her second novel, a deft crime thriller (with no police presence) entitled To Fear a Painted Devil. For 20 years, she was content to alternate installments in the Wexford series with a steady stream of bestselling standalones that explored darker themes like envy, sexual obsession, and the tragic repercussions of miscommunication.
Then, in 1986, she began a third strand of fiction under the name Barbara Vine. The very first of these books, A Dark-Adapted Eye, earned a prestigious Edgar Award. From the get-go, the pseudonymous Vine novels had a separate DNA, although Rendell has always had difficulty pinpointing the distinction.
In an interview with NPR, she tried to explain I dont think the Barbara Vines are mysteries in any sense. I must say that. They are different, and that is partly how I decide.
The idea would come to me and I would know at once whether it was to be a Barbara Vine or a Ruth Rendell ... The Barbara Vine is much more slowly paced. It is a much more in-depth, searching sort of book; it doesnt necessarily have a murder in it.
Its almost always set partly in the past, sometimes quite a long way in the past. And I think all these things come together and make them very different from the Ruth Rendells. Under both names, Rendell has garnered numerous awards, including three American Edgars and multiple Gold and Silver Daggers from Englands distinguished Crime Writers Association.
In 1996, she was made a Commander of the British Empire; and in 1997, a Life Peerage was conferred on her as Baroness Rendell of Babergh. Although, in her own words, she was slightly stunned by the peerage, she takes her responsibilities quite seriously, writing in the mornings and attending the House of Lords several afternoons a week. Praise for Rendell is lavish and seemingly unqualified.
John Mortimer once proclaimed that she would surely have won the Booker if she had not been pigeonholed as a crime writer. Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison has identified Rendell as one of her favorite authors. And Joyce Carol Oates has called her one of the finest practitioners of the craft in the English-speaking world.
Good To Know While working as a journalist, Rendell once reported on a local clubs annual dinner without actually attending. Her story omitted the crucial fact that the after-dinner speaker had dropped dead at the podium in the middle of his speech! She resigned before being fired.
The pseudonym Barbara Vine derives from the combination of Rendells middle name and her great-grandmothers maiden name. I wouldnt keep my age a secret even if I had the chance, Rendell has said. But I dont have the chance.
Regularly, on February 17, the newspapers tell their readers my age.