From Doon with Death, Ruth Rendell

I kind of get a kick out of reading books that have Shocking Content (for their time), but because of the way society has evolved, the content that was shocking before is no longer shocking and indeed has become sort of — you know. Sort of wincey, and you feel bad for the author because it’s not her fault that the plot device she employed has become an awkward, lazy trope that a writer now would catch all kinds of flack for employing. And you know the author who did it when it was Shocking was a product of her time, and common wisdom was different then, but still you just feel awkward for her. But good awkward because the book is a snapshot of its time and it’s nice to see how society has changed.

I’m concerned that preface comes too close to being spoilery, but never mind. If you’re worried about spoilers, just stop reading this review now and give it a few months before you decide to read the first of Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford mysteries.

That’s right! The very first! Now, I have had some success with Barbara Vine (though not infallible success), and have liked Ruth Rendell less, in spite of their being the same person. But I thought I’d read the first Wexford book and see what I made of it. From Doon with Death is about a poor dull woman called Mrs. Parsons who gets murdered in a forest. Pretty standard mystery fare, including the resolution, though apparently the resolution was Very Shocking at the time. It’s all, you know, fine. It isn’t as brilliant as A Dark-Adapted Eye, for example, but it’s a solid detective murder mystery and I enjoyed it.

Damned with faint praise? Yes, but as I say, not altogether Ruth Rendell’s fault. You’ll know what I mean if you read it.

Here’s the big thing that came out of my reading this book: The afterword in the edition I read discusses Rendell’s attitude toward the Shocking Content and how it is in line with what was believed to be Right and True at the time the book was written. It then says that a read-through of Rendell’s oeuvre is like reading a social history of England from 1964 to the present. Y’all, I love a Project. I love reading things in chronological order from the beginning. Those are things I already love. When someone frames it as being of wider sociological interest to do the exact thing I already love, you know I cannot resist. Hence I will be reading all of Ruth Rendell’s books in order from the beginning, not counting short stories, to the extent that my library access permits me. Project.

  • I also really loved A Dark Adapted Eye, and it was one of the very first books I reviewed. I gushed and gushed. I had the same reaction to a few books that were written long ago, and there is one in particular that I am thinking of whose name escapes me. It does seem slightly embarrassing when the big reveal is really no big deal, and sometimes it’s even hard for me to work up enough presence of mind to realize that it was a big deal back then. I can totally get what you are saying in this post, and quite agree.

    • Zenita

      The title of the book that escapes you is A Sleeping Life (1979). “The body found under the hedge was that of a middle-aged woman, biggish and gaunt. There was nothing to give Detective Chief Inspector Wexford her address, her occupation or even her identity – let alone any clues which might lead to her killer.” I have just read it and enjoyed the glimps of the past times.

  • I am very much in favor of your project, so much so that I’m tempted to join you, but I don’t need another project.

    I think I’ve mentioned before that I like Barbara Vine’s books better than Ruth Rendell’s, despite their being the same person. However, as far as I’m concerned, inferior Ruth Rendell is still better than a lot of books.

  • I read this one a few years back and enjoyed it but never got around to blogging about it. I like the sound of your project as well…it kind of makes me want to go see if my library has the 2nd book. LOL! And I’ve never read Barbara Vine aka Rendell so I must remedy that!

  • I tried Ruth Rendell years ago and didn’t quite click with her. Then after more years passed, I read one of her Barbara Vine novels and loved it. Then I read another and found it really awful. Ach. I have such an upsy downsy time with her. But your project sounds great because you might be able to identify which of her books are worth reading and which can be safely left alone in the library. Now that would be a good thing!

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