Ruth Rendell's 'remarkable legacy' remembered

Ruth Rendell's 'remarkable legacy' remembered

The ardent crescendos of the opera that Ruth Rendell delighted in scaled the heights of All Saints Margaret Street, W1, yesterday (29th October), at the memorial service for the "respected and loved" crime writer.

"The literary world has lost its brightest star, the House of Lords has lost a tireless campaigner, and we have all lost a wonderful companion and great friend," said Baroness Gail Rebuck, chair of Rendell's publisher Penguin Random House UK, in the first of a host of tributes to the "generosity of spirit" shown by the crime writer and campaigner, who died in May at the age of 85.

Two hundred people attended the memorial service, including Rendell's son Simon Rendell and his wife, and many of the literary community. In addition to Rebuck, speakers included Val McDermid on Rendell's crime writing; Baroness Amos of Brondesbury, PC, on her political life; Campbell Robb, chief executive at Shelter, on her generous charitable work; and actor Christopher Ravenscroft (aka DI Burden in TV adaptation "The Ruth Rendell Mysteries") with a moving reading from her novel The Keys to the Street.

Rebuck described herself as having been "in awe of" Rendell when they first met; but while "she has been described, rightly so, as the most important British crime writer of her generation...for me it is her loyalty and capacity for friendship I'll cherish most". Described as a "strong and loyal ally" to her friends and colleagues, and "good fun too", she remained loyal to her publisher Hutchinson, Rebuck noted, throughout the decades and despite four major changes culminating eventually in the merger with Penguin; as well as to her long term editors, notably Paul Sidey until his death last year.

Rendell wrote over 50 novels in her lifetime - beginning with a humble advance of £75 for her first published novel From Doon with Death published in 1964, up to her last novel Dark Corners published only last week - and including the dark psychological thrillers she wrote from the mid-1980s under the pseudonym Barbara Vine. "It wasn't enough she produced a procedural police series that sustained itself over the life of 24 novels. That would have satisfied most writers, but there were 28 more," crime writer McDermid said. "Stories that explore the darkest corners of obsession and oddness, showing us what happens to off-kilter lives when the wheels come off and they crash and burn with terrible and ominous inevitability.

"Her success proved to publishers it was possible to write more than one kind of crime novel and still take readers with you. She held a promise of what the crime novel could be. She created multilayered novels that shed a light on the world we live in. Because she cared about people."

Once a real "fan girl", McDermid added: "I studied the way she constructed her stories. And how she gave her characters hinterland: To appear real even when they behaved in ways that were strange to me. She's left a remarkable legacy for readers and writers alike."

Meanwhile Baroness Amos described Rendell as an "ideal member" of the Lords who attended every day and never missed a vote - unless intentionally abstaining. Popular with colleagues and members of staff, she was diligent and always willing to sign a copy of one of her books if asked. She also relished political gossip, particularly discussing the ins and out of the Labour Party, "so you can see why I've particularly missed her this year," said  Amos.

Praising the "instrumental role" Rendell played in passing the first piece of legislation against the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation, she said: "Not many people realise the important political and parliamentary role she had. She never gave up and I remember how pleased she was when her persistence paid off and the first case was brought to court. Her outspoken condemnation FGM raised awareness of a barbaric practice.

"She abhorred inequality and prejudice and wasn't afraid to say so."

Rendell was a passionate supporter to a broad spectrum of charities, including Kids for Kids, Refuge, Little Hearts Matter and Shelter. Robb, chief executive of charity Shelter, said: "I cannot possibly lost all of the charities she has supported or I would take up the whole of this service. 

"She was someone who had to make a difference. It wasn't about her. Or her name or her reputation. It was about making things happen. Bringing about change."

Robb finished his tribute with a quote from one of her favourite books The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford.

Punctuating tributes from friends, colleagues and family, Korean opera singer Jihoon Kim (bass) and Flora MIntosh (mezzo), accompanied by Ed Batting, performed Verdi's Ernami and Handel's Alcina respectively, to the appreciative applause of a full house, to reflect Rendell's love of music and in seeing talented young performers herself.

Rendell is survived by son Simon and two grandsons. Black-and-white photos of Rendell throughout her life - as a girl aged 16, with her late husband Don Rendell, and with actor George Baker, who played her most famous character Inspector Wexford in "The Ruth Rendell Mysteries" - were included in the order of service for attendees to discover in thanksgiving for the life of a "very special friend and colleague".