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Ruth Rendell: 'Kill off Inspector Wexford? I don't want to do that'
Next year will be the 50th anniversary of Ruth Rendell’s first published novel, From Doon With Death.
The book introduced the world to Inspector Wexford, and catapulted Rendell to critical literary acclaim.
Almost half a century on and Rendell, as well as Wexford, show little sign of slowing down.
Her latest Wexford book, No Man’s Nightingale, is released next week, and centres around the murder of a vicar. Wexford, now retired, is called in to investigate by his friend and former colleague, detective superintendent Mike Burden.
“Wexford is retired, and his sidekick, detective superintendent Burden, is now in charge,” says Rendell.
“Wexford is aware he has to be careful and take a bit of a backseat. He has to steer a delicate course between being there and not being a policeman.
“That seems to work. I’m pleased with it. I don’t want him to become a private detective.” Rendell will be discussing her new book, as well as her career, at the Rose Theatre on Sunday, September 8.
On the new novel, she says: “It’s about a woman who is the vicar of a parish near Wexford’s village (the fictional Kingsmarkham).
“She gets murdered and it’s about what kind of a person she was. I hope she’s an interesting character.”
It’s interesting hearing Rendell talk almost fondly about a character she created with the distinct intention of killing off.
But murder victims in Rendell’s novels have seldom been perfunctory characters created solely for a story arc.
Much of the intrigue in the Wexford novels lies in the detective uncovering the past of the victim, bringing a character who dies early in the story almost back to life.
“A book should always be exciting,” says Rendell. “It doesn’t need to be full of murder and violence, but there should be suspense of some sort – something that makes you think: “What’s going to happen next?
“It’s the most important thing.”
As well as the Wexford series, Rendell is a celebrated author of psychological thrillers, writing under the non-de-plume Barbara Vine.
But she suggests that that side of her writing may be at an end.
“I may not write anymore Barbara Vines,” she says.
But fans of the Wexford series need not worry.
When I ask her if she plans to ever fully “retire” Wexford,” she says: “Do you mean kill him? Probably not.
“Too many writers have killed off their characters and then had to bring them back, like Conan Doyle. I don’t want to do that.”
An evening with Ruth Rendell, Sunday, September 8, 7pm.
Rose Theatre, High Street, Kingston, £15.
Call 08444 821556 or visit website.
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