Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Short Story Wednesday-BLOOD LINES by Ruth Rendell

(from the archives: B.V. Lawson)

Rendell is an author who needs very little introduction, having created the popular Chief Inspector Reginald "Reg" Wexford series under her own name and many other books under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, as well as having been nominated numerous times for Dagger and Edgar Awards. But the very first Edgar she ever won was in 1975 for a short story, "The Fallen Curtain" from a book by the same name (she won another short-story Edgar in 1984). Since that time, she's had nine short story collections published, the latest a compilation in 2008.

Bloodlines One of her anthologies, Blood Lines, dates from 1995 and includes 10 shorter stories and one novella. Most of the stories are familiar Rendell territory including the villages of Kingsmarkham and Stowerton, which are the stomping grounds of Chief Inspector Wexford and his assistant Mike Burden, featured in the intial story. "Blood Lines" finds Wexford and Burden solving a bludgeoning death that Wexford doggedly pursues despite the fact everyone else thinks it's a mere robbery gone bad, in the end piecing together a picture of infidelity, spousal abuse and betrayal.

"Lizzie's Lover" takes a new and literal twist on a Browning poem that comes to life; "Burning End" explores the difficult relationships between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law and what it takes to push someone over the edge; the accidental discovery of a poisonous mushroom in a garden leads to a game of culinary Russian Roulette by a mad man in a supermarket, in "Shreds and Shivers"; "Clothes" is the only story not to deal with death but rather peers inside an unusual obsession that drives a woman to emotional collapse.

The longest story, the novella "The Strawberry Tree" was one of seventeen televised feature-length adaptations of Rendell's work which aired on ITV in the UK and on some PBS stations between 1987 and 2000, under the title Ruth Rendell Mysteries, which Acorn Media just released in a DVD boxed set in March. It was apparently intended as a sketch for a Barbara Vine novel, a foreboding and atmospheric tale of lost innocence embedded in a lonely young woman's deep desire for love and friendship on the island of Majorca.

Rendell (and alter ego Vine) is known for her exploration of the darker human impulses forged out of society’s moral codes: passion, jealousy, anxiety, guilt, shame, rage are the colors she uses to paint psychological portraits as she allows the reader to delve into the minds of her characters. If you haven't read a Rendell novel, stories such as these make for a fine introduction.


George Kelley 

Kevin Tipple 

Jerry House 

Todd Mason 

Steve Lewis


Casual Debris said...

Hi Patti, I have one for this week:

The only Rendell novel I've read is A Guilty Thing Surprised, which I recall enjoying, as I like darker mysteries, but as with most mysteries I've read, I'm hazy on the details.


Jerry House said...

I've read three of her collections and enjoyed them. I also like the Wexford books, but have never been able to get into her other work. Not sure why.

Jeff Meyerson said...

I've read all of her short story collections, most of her Wexford books, and a couple of the Barbara Vines.

After a year or two of waiting, the library finally came through with Claire Keegan's second book, WALK THE BLUE FIELDS (2007), the last of her four I've read. She is just such an evocative writer. Her picture of farm life, country life in Ireland is not pretty. I had no idea that Heinrich Boll was a regular visitor to the west of Ireland and that his old cottage is used for writers now, before reading "The Long and Painful Death." The title story is dark too, about a priest who performs the wedding ceremony for a woman he had an affair with. "The Forester's Daughter" is long and, you guessed it, dark. But don't let these comments put you off, she is such a good writer that she really should be read.

I've gone back to ALL AUNT HAGAR'S CHILDREN by Edward P. Jones, another master of setting the time and place - black Washington, D.C., mostly mid-century. There are a couple of odder stories, with what some would call "woo woo" elements, but again, he is worth reading.

Also reading the Block collection, plus I got a Dennis Lehane collection I had missed from the library, and just bought the Charles Beaumont collection George reviewed today.

Todd Mason said...

Mine's up and not as much at 'em as I'd like, but the headache (for some reason) isn't helping (I don't get them often). Thanks!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think I started that Keegan collection but didn't finish. And I have never read AUNT HAGAR. Will look for it.
Rendell's other work is even darker.

Jeff Meyerson said...

I will send you the Jones book when I finish it. I have two other books for you already.

TracyK said...

I read a book of Rendell's short stories in 2020 and enjoyed all of them. I was surprised, because some of her books are too tense for me, although I liked the Wexford series.

Margot Kinberg said...

I've always liked Ruth Rendell's ability to build up tension and create psychological suspense. I need to read more of her short stories.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, Jeff. I loved all of her novels but have read few short stories. She was a master of dark. I went to a book talk by her in Manchester once and she was a tough cookie.

Casual Debris said...

The Jerry House link is corrupt. It should be: