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LONDON (AP) — Prolific crime and mystery writer Ruth Rendell, perhaps best known for her Chief Inspector Wexford novels, died Saturday, said her publisher, Penguin Random House. She was 85.
The cause of death was not announced, but Rendell had suffered a serious stroke in January.
She was one of Britain’s most popular crime novelists and authored dozens of books, including many written under the pen name Barbara Vine.
Rendell was a member of the House of Lords who had received wide recognition and many awards throughout her long career. Her Inspector Wexford series was made into a popular TV series, winning her many new fans and accolades.
She began her literary efforts by writing some “very bad” novels that were never published, she told The Associated Press in a 2005 interview.
After these false starts, she found that “suspense and a sort of tension and a sort of mystery was my forte.”
Once she found her way, Rendell produced novels at an astonishing pace — more than 60 books over four decades, including 20 featuring Chief Inspector Wexford.
She brought to the classic mystery a psychological depth that gave readers unusual access to the emotional makeup of seemingly ordinary people capable of foul deeds.
Rendell lived in recent years in the scenic Little Venice neighborhood of London, which is known for its canals and colorful houseboats, but the pleasant surroundings did not alter her hard-eyed view of human nature.
“I don’t think the world is a particularly pleasant place,” said Rendell. “It is, of course, for some people. But it is a hard place, and I don’t think it’s being cynical to say that.”
The author was appointed to the House of Lords by Prime Minister Tony Blair‘s Labour government in 1997, and she spent many afternoons attending sessions in Parliament after she had finished her morning writing sessions. Her official title was Baroness Rendell of Babergh.
Rendell was conscious of the strong feelings many of her readers had for the fictional character.
“With a series character like Wexford, people do regard him as a real person that they become extremely attached to,” she says. “Women have written to me over the years and said that they were in love with him and would I kill his wife because they’d like to marry him.”
Rendell told The Independent newspaper in 2014 that her personal hero was South African Bishop Desmond Tutu “because he’s such a good man and he’s had a hard life and always looks so happy.”
The same year, she told an audience at the Cheltenham Literary Festival that she shied away from writing about child murder for fear that writing about it might in some way show criminals how to do it.
“I would rather not be involved, rather not be responsible,” she said.
The same concerns kept her from writing about cruelty to animals, she said.
She would spend long hours walking in London, taking in the sights and conversations and forming impressions for her book, and also was an opera fan.
Rendell’s husband, Donald Rendell, died in 1999.
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