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Thursday, January 14, 2016

In which the mystery group takes a walk on the psychological side with Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine...

Our mystery book group actually met last week on Wednesday evening, but I'm just getting this post scheduled because I was trying to finish the book that I had selected to read, Asta's Book.  I really liked it, by the way.  It was a slow-ish reading experience though - not necessarily because of the book itself, but because of me.

Anyway, this was our first meeting of the year and we had most of our regular crew in attendance.  We were missing at least 4 of our regulars - and they were missed for sure.  Our task for this month - read any book written by Ruth Rendell or her other persona, Barbara Vine.  This prolific author died in May of 2015 and since we had not ever read any of her books as a group, I thought she would be a perfect choice for an 'Author Month'.

 Stephen King said,  'No one surpasses Ruth Rendell when it comes to stories of obsession, instability, and malignant coincidence...'

Ruth Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, was indeed considered something of a 'queen' of psychological mysteries, even though she hated the 'queen of crime' title. Her first book was published in 1964, From Doon With Death, the beginning of her Inspector Wexford series (24 books).  Her final book came out in 2015, after her death, Dark Corners.  That would be an amazing 51 years of writing and something over 60 books.  She took an active part in the House of Lords and supported several charities in a big way.

Barbara Vine was a pseudonym that she used beginning with A Dark Adapted Eye in 1986.  Many felt that her Vine books were darker and that she spent more time inside the heads of the criminals.  It seemed that fans of the Wexford series often did not like the Vine books and vice versa.  There were many, many bestsellers regardless of the name Rendell used, however.

I was pleased to see that a wide variety of books were sampled by the group members.  We had very few overlaps.  Here's what the group read and some of their reactions:

The Tree of Hands - Charlotte - unlikeable characters
The Girl Next Door - Carol - hated the ending
Dark Corners - Gary - questioned response to blackmailer
From Doon With Death - Gayle and Casey - both found ending a little confusing - a Wexford book
A Dark Adapted Eye - Gayle - almost quit reading
No Man's Nightingale - Karen - found story interesting - female vicar strangled - Wexford book
The St. Zita Society - Mahassen - first 70 pages very dull - then it got interesting - liked the London setting and culture
The Babes in the  Woods - Liz - teenagers missing while parents on vacation - Wexford book
Portobello - Nora - loved the setting of Portobello Road
Asta's Book - Kay - story of a family and a diary, written by Asta, published in part by Asta's daughter, Swanny, and continued by Asta's granddaughter, Ann.  There's a missing child, a murder, and decades of a life.  Not a fast paced story, but one that I really enjoyed.

The overall consensus was that most were not big fans of Ruth Rendell's writing.  Some found it too dark.  Some found it too slow.  A couple were pleased.
Two of our missing members had sent me their reactions.  One did not like the book she read at all.  The other read one Vine book - hated it - and then returned to the Wexford series, which she had enjoyed in the past.  I'm probably the only one that feels a definite urge to continue sampling Ruth Rendell's books.  And I shall.

There have been many TV and movie adaptations of this author's works.  I'm not sure I've seen any, but want to seek some of them out.  Have you read any books by Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine?  What did you think?






24 comments:

  1. I didn't know Ruth and Barbara are the same person; and I haven't read any of the books, yet. Need to check out her books since you and Stephen King said so! ;-)

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    1. I think a lot of people have not known that Ruth Rendell used both names. Yes, the King quote was fun.

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  2. I read a couple of the Wexford books and really wasn't very impressed. My sister was a huge fan of the Barbara Vine books and kept on at me to try them and I really must sometime, but the Wexford ones put me off a bit. However the one you read, Asta's Book, if memory serves me right, is one that Cleo always recommends as her favourite...

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    1. Yes, Cleo has Asta's Book as a favorite. I was pretty sure I had read it before, but could remember nothing about it. So, I read it again. It was good.

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  3. I haven't read any Rendell/Vine in a long time but I do remember having issues with the pacing and I don't disagree that there's a surprising amount of darkness in her stories. I'm definitely intrigued by your pick - Asta's Book. It sounds very different from a lot of her other books and very interesting even if it is a bit slow. I'll have to look for that one!

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    1. I think her Vine books are all a bit different. I enjoyed Asta's Book.

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  4. I read her from time to time and yes she can be very dark, but I like her very much.

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    1. I'm curious to try more of her books.

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  5. I think the thoughts about the earlier books are maybe a sign of the times or books. Just like t.v. shows, we are used to faster paced, to the point books and television. I am not sure that is a good thing though. After sticking it out after the first 70 pages, A Dark Adapted Eye, picked up and I wanted to finish it. I would like to find some of the t.v. adaptations and watch one or two. (not on Netflix fyi)

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    1. Yes, I checked on Netflix too. No go, although I'm pretty sure some were there at one time. And I agree that things have changed and we are used to a faster pace. I'm interested in trying more of her books - the earlier ones.

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  6. I read the first two Wexford books, and really liked both! Thanks for the nudge to continue. No interest in the Vine books. A bit creepy for me. I went back and looked at what I said about From Doon with Death, and I couldn't put it down. Years ago the Wexford books were on television but it is very hard to see them now. Road Rage and Simisola are on dvd from Netflix; and they also offer on dvd The Ruth Rendell Mysteries. A neat side note is that the man who played Wexford actually married the woman who played his wife, and they died just a few months apart.

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    1. How interesting, Nan, about the actors. I remember seeing her Ruth Rendell Mysteries on Netflix streaming at one point or I think so, but no more. I bet you did like the Wexford books. I want to try them.

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  7. I have a Judgement in Stone but I remember thinking it was slow moving and put it down. I did not know she also wrote as Barbara Vine. That completely intrigues me as I love when authors spend time in the criminals mind during the story, so glad you mentioned that.

    Can I just say how jealous I am of a Mystery Book Club, sigh. :-)

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    1. Marce, wish you could join us. We have a good group and have been reading mysteries together for 8 years now. It's a lot of fun.

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  8. I like Ruth Rendell in whichever persona she wrote in - nowadays I'd pick the Barbara Vine and her stand-alones over Wexford but that's more because my reading habits have evolved away from police procedurals than the writing. I loved Asta's book probably because it was slowly devastating!

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    1. I agree with you on all fronts. And I'm glad you told me that Asta's Book was a favorite of yours. It encouraged me to select it as my read.

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  9. I wish I could remember which Ruth Rendell book I had read. It was years before I began blogging or even journaling my reading. All I really remember is that I enjoyed it.

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    1. You sound like me with Asta's Book, which was a reread for me and which I remembered nothing of from the previous reading experience. I enjoyed it this time a lot.

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  10. I've read one and for the life of me I can't remember the title, but it was about some students who rented a house in the 60s or 70s and what happened. It was dark and creepy and I liked it. I like watching Wexford on TV but have not been tempted by the books. Her Vine books do tempt me though, especially Asta's Book which I have somewhere,

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    1. Cath, I think you'd like Asta's Book. You should add it to your list for this year.

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  11. A Ruth Rendell I read a long time ago but remember that I really enjoyed was The Bridesmaid and Keys to the Street. I've read a couple of her Vine books and I did find the pacing a bit slower than some of my other favorite crime writers. Somehow I have not read any of her Wexford mysteries!

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    1. I'll have to remember the two you mention. I do want to read more books by Rendell/Vine.

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  12. Wow. So many dislikes from a mystery group for a well-read author. I will have to count on your future reviews to convince me to give her a try ;)

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    1. Well, maybe not serious dislikes, just not terribly anxious to pick up another of her books soon. LOL

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Thanks for stopping by! I am so happy to hear your thoughts and will respond as soon as I can. Happy Reading!