Crime Squad’s Ruth Rendell Top Ten

Ahead for her appearance at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Crime Squad pick their top ten Ruth Rendell books.

1. Asta’s Book – Barbara Vine

“This is my ultimate favourite Rendell novel written under her Vine persona. Here Rendell delivers the whole package. A cast of memorable characters, a wonderful sense of place, past and present, a trial and a journey of discovery. ‘Asta’s Book’ is about identity and discovering who we are (something people have gone wild for in recent years). Rendell was exploring this twenty years before. I have given copies of this book to many friends. The writing is sublime and the suspense flickers like a slow-burning candle but ultimately this is about the bond between a mother and daughter. I love this book.”


2. Make Death Love Me – Ruth Rendell

“One of Rendell’s lesser known titles but the image I always get when I read the end of this book which is so sad and potent always leaves an image burned on my imagination. Here, Rendell is brilliant at provoking emotion and this is an exemplary tale well told. “


3. Kissing The Gunner’s Daughter – Ruth Rendell

“This novel is the closest Rendell has got to combining both a Wexford case with the intensity of her psychological standalone novels. This is a deliciously dark and deceptive novel with a shock ending that will leave you breathless.”


4. To Fear A Painted Devil – Ruth Rendell

“I have included this simply because it was the very first Rendell I read and the one that started me becoming a huge fan of this amazing writer. I read this in one day and I couldn’t believe how brilliant this was. Rendell was my first contemporary crime writer and I am still waiting to find one who can top her on every level. (Still searching)…”


5. The Killing Doll – Ruth Rendell

“This is a dark, grim and claustrophobic tale of madness and witchcraft. Rendell perfectly describes her tale of the descent in to insanity and paranoia. This was the second book of Rendell’s I read and was blown away by her originality and in-depth characterisation. The violent ending to this novel left me open-mouthed in awe.”


6. A Fatal Inversion – Barbara Vine

“I read this while on holiday in Spain. Strange how you remember details like that twenty-five years later! The villa had a pool and I stayed by it until I had turned the last page! This is definitely Rendell country – a selection of outcasts of society, an abandoned and solitary house deep in the countryside and tensions rising with each petty argument. When you have read this you will understand why it was awarded the CWA Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel of 1987. “


7. The New Girlfriend and Other Stories – Ruth Rendell
“Rendell has released several collections of short stories but this one is her best known and most cohesive and surprising of them all. Here Rendell shows that she can deliver a quick punch to the solar plexus in just a few pages. These stories are sharp and crackle with menace and suspense. My personal favourites are the title story which is so twisted, ‘Hare’s House’, ‘The Convolvulus Clock’, ‘Loopy’ and ‘The Dark Blue Perfume’ which was also made for TV. You will be hard pushed not to devour all these delicious entrees in one sitting! ” 

 


8. A Guilty Thing Surprised – Ruth Rendell

“It was a toss up between this Wexford and another later case for the great man, ‘Road Rage’. For me, this later book had a stunning twist which totally side-blinded me. But I have plumped for this title. I read this in the mid-80’s and it didn’t do much for me. Twenty years later I read it with mature eyes and could appreciate the story and different nuances. The subject matter for the crime shows that Rendell was writing about taboo subjects back in the sixties. Wexford tracks down his killer although showing a benevolent side to his nature.”


9. A Sight For Sore Eyes – Ruth Rendell
“Rendell is brilliant at creating villains that are burned in to your imagination for years. Teddy Brex is a great example. He isn’t calculating, you couldn’t say he is evil personified. He simply removes people if they get in his way, especially when it comes to his infinite love for Francine. To my mind Teddy is as close to Highsmith’s brilliant creation, Tom Ripley as you can get. Teddy is from the same sociopath mould as Ripley. All Teddy wants is a life with Francine – at all costs. ” 

10. The Strawberry Tree – Ruth Rendell

“This is a novella which was first published in ‘Unguarded Hours’, two novellas; one by Rendell, the other by the short story writer, Helen Simpson. It was then added to the collection of short stories in ‘Blood Lines’. Here you can read it on it’s own via Kindle. This is a beautiful and sad tale of innocence, loss, deception and acceptance in Mallorca that transported me to that island. This is one of Rendell’s works that I go back to time and again and it never loses it’s magic. “

This article originally appeared here on Crime Squad.

Ruth Rendell will be interviewed by Jeanette Winterson on Friday 19th July at the Crime Writing Festival. Book you tickets here. She will also receive the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award on Thursday 18th July.