Thursday, July 5, 2007

This just in: The woman can write

I've discovered this great new writer: Ruth Rendell. I predict that one day she will sell a lot of books.

Seriously, I'm embarrassed to admit that even though I call myself a fan of crime fiction, I had completely ignored the works of Ruth Rendell until about a year ago. I'm even more embarrassed to say that I had deliberately browsed right past her books, mostly because she's so prolific I was sure it must all be crap. Even worse: I had this baseless suspicion that female writers could not really do justice to the genre, Agatha Christie and P.D. James notwithstanding.

Yes, that is a terribly sexist and ignorant attitude, and I apologize. I have read the top-selling female writers like Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton and Patricia Cornwell. As successful as they all are, their work has never really connected with me. I'm sure that's my problem, not theirs.

What I like about Ruth Rendell is her brilliant way of exploring the psychic landscape of her characters, teasing out the mundane motivation that eventually widens into obsession and dark deeds. I'm particularly impressed that she doesn't need the length of a novel to do it. Her short fiction is the best I've seen. Any student of short stories should check out collections like "The Copper Peacock" and "The Fever Tree." While these stories certainly qualify as crime fiction, the best of them qualify also as literature.

Anyway, guess what I've been reading lately. While I regret it took me this long to discover her genius, the upside is that I have a large portion of the Rendell canon left to explore. That's a good feeling.


Uriah Robinson said...

"Female writers could not do justice to the genre!"

I would think the female mind is ideally suited to writing crime fiction.

Ruth Rendell, PD James, Val McDermid, Donna Leon, Karin Alvtegen, Karin Fossum and Fred Vargas are right up there with the best. So you have a lot of great reading ahead of you, Dave.
But as I have found there are just too many good crime fiction authors to read them all.
Best wishes Norm/Uriah at Crime Scraps

Dave Knadler said...

I'm already beginning to regret saying that. Still, it takes a big man to admit when he's wrong. (And since there are no big men around, I guess it falls to me.)

Maxine said...

I understand what you mean about those particular three authors. However, Norm/Uriah is right to say there are lots of excellent female crime fiction writers. We got together quite a collection at petrona a while back.

Yes, I agree about Rendell, she writes the Chief Insp Wexford series, which I've been following for about 30 years;-), various stand alone novels and short stories, and more "psychological" books under the name Barbara Vine. All are good. She is also a Labour Peer in "real life".

Dave Knadler said...

I've read half-a-dozen or so of the Wexford books. They're great, but somehow I find her non-series works even better.

I have noted the authors Uriah mentioned, and your Petrona list. My vapid observations will follow as I move through them. (not that there's a vast need for half-baked fiction commentary, but blog I must...)

Peter said...

1) Your observations are not vapid.
2) Try Karin Fossum, especially He Who Fears the Wolf.

I've read one Ruth Rendell Novel, The Veiled One. While the brand of psychological in that novel wasn't my cup of tea, the opening chapter was a daring and brilliant piece of writing. I have a book or two of hers lined up for reading, and perhaps this discussion will push them a bit higher on the list.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Dave Knadler said...

OK, I just ordered "He Who Fears the Wolf." Fortunately, it's available in paperback...

Anonymous said...

Also try "The Crocodile Bird".
Rendell/Vine is excellent. How about the classics by women like
"Ride the Pink Horse" by Dorothy B.
Hughes, anything by Patricia Highsmith or Helen Nielsen?