this is the 212th in my series of forgotten or seldom read books
From Doon With Death by Ruth Rendell © 1964! mystery – first Inspector Wexford. The edition I read (shown): Ballentine Books 2007 paperback.
I thought: Ruth Rendell. Sure, I have something here by her.
I didn’t, and didn’t even know the identity of her series character. I do now, and I’m the better for it. This is the first book in the series, so I was introduced to the character as well as the time, setting and nature of it’s inhabitants. Rendell is often labeled a thriller writer, but the book I read, her first published, seems to be a pretty straight-forward British police procedural.
The story: Margaret Parsons is a plain housewife in a plain house with a plain relationship with both her husband and life in general. All a bit dreary, really. Then her husband comes home to an empty house, and after a few hours reports his wife missing. Two days later, she’s found and a murder investigation begins. Old school chums are involved, as is Arctic Sable lipstick. I won’t say more.
There are characters and personalities galore, that’s the real strength of this novel, though as a mystery reader I was pretty well able to spot the phonies from the rest. I don’t think Rendell was quite as concerned with fooling the readers as stimulating them.
An aside: It’s occurred to me, perhaps unfairly, that sometimes I could be reading a British mystery and feel a sameness to other British mysteries I’ve read. Is it by Peter Robinson, or Ruth Rendell, or Robert Barnard or Ian Rankin or…? There just seems to be a “feel” (that’s a technical term) that, to me, is very similar. Perhaps it the soot-streaked stone, the grey skies and the general dreariness of the setting. This isn’t across the board, of course, I’d never confuse Peter Lovesey with Val McDermid.
But back to the book. I liked it. Wexford is a character I’d like to get to know better, and that will happen when I get a copy of A New Lease of Death (1967) (U.S. title: Sins of the Fathers)
The feel you mention also occurs to me whenever I watch Briitish crime series on Masterpiece Theater. I thought it was in the production but perhaps it is in the books themselves.
Yes, I see it there, too.
SNAP! I enjoyed re-reading this one, though I must admit, I would never get her books mixed up with those by Rankin, though it has been a while since I picked up one of his. 🙂
You did your usual excellent job of reviewing this book, more facts and insights, good job. I guess my reviews are more knee-jerk, but why I think is what you get. You could be right about Rankin, it’s been a while for me too.
I think you are right to take the approch, especially with such a concise early novel such as this. Well, it has been a good while since I cracked open a Rankin but the style and characters seemed so different (Rankin seemed to be a bit more rock ‘n roll, though there always seemed a cabal to uncover …)
Good one. I like the sensible Wexford very much as a character, and even the somewhat tedious Mike Burden grows on you as the series goes on. I know what you mean about the series blending together. Don’t forget Reginald Hill and John Harvey.
Jeff, I’m going to skip the next two or three and go with the one(s) on Sergio’s list in his comments on his review of this one today.
As Sergio mentioned on his blog, he wasn’t “wowed” by FROM DOON TO DEATH, either. But Rendell got a lot better over the years. I reviewed a Wexford mystery from the 1960s. Twenty years improved the series.
George, I’m going to skip forward when I next read Rendell. I’m glad for this special FFB, I may not have tried her otherwise.
I think Rendell is better when she’s *not* writing about Wexford. To me she helped bring respectability to crime fiction because of her stand alone books. Wasn’t she one of the first mystery writers to make the NY Times bestseller lists back in the 1970s? Her early Barbara Vine books are some of my favorites in the entire genre. I stopped reading them after THE BLOOD DOCTOR which was utterly dull so I haven’t any idea how the newer Vines are. Surprised not one Vine book was reviewed today. I had no idea this Rendell tribute was happening this week or else I would’ve written about one of them. Maybe some people haven’t a clue she writes under two names.
Your opinion is shared by many others, John. BTW, if you’d been tuning in to my weekly Monday what I’m reading posts, you’d have seen a couple of weeks ago, that I was reading this one for the Special FFB. Just hinting. 🙂
One of these days I’ll have to give Rendell a try. She’s such a big name and has written so much, yet I haven’t read a word by her.
I’d been saying that for years, this special FFB got me doing it.
I agree with you, the characters in Rendell’s books are very good, very well developed and interesting. I have read a lot of her books (mostly about Wexford) but read many of them years ago and don’t remember much except I was a big fan at the time.
I grabbed my first Rendell (for this FFB) off the library shelf with little knowledge of her, having read only a short story–The Irony of Hate–which I enjoyed. Unfortunately I picked one of the “didactic” stinkers she was also known for. I need to give her another chance. Tracy suggested one of her Vine books, and that’s probly the way I’ll go.
I believe she also wrote under some pseudonyms. I seem to remember reading that, and reading some of those when I was younger. Haven’t read anything under her own name but have several friends who swear by her