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.