This is a sad day for me. My favorite author died in England this morning at the age of 85. She wrote more than 60 novels and countless short stories in her remarkable career, and she received just about every award on offer for mystery writers, including the two biggest: The British Crime Writers Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement and the Mystery Writers of America’s Grandmaster Award for the same. She was recognized by her sovereign with the title Dame Ruth, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, and she sat in the House of Lords, a rare honor for an author. On a personal note, she is one of only two authors with more than one title on my recent list of 50 (Okay, 51) Modern Mysteries Everyone Should Read. So it’s a sad day for everybody who loves the very best in mystery fiction.
I won’t go into a eulogy, nor will I reminisce about my favorites of her works. Instead, I’ll leave this eloquent artist with the last word. In 1993, while I was working at Murder Ink®, I spent a lovely afternoon with her, conducting an exclusive interview that was published in the store’s catalog. I can’t reprint the entire interview here because I don’t own the copyright to it, but I will share her closing remarks at the end of our conversation.
My question was: “Of all the famous crime writers we know, you seem to be the one who is the least enamored of the trappings of celebrity, and your modesty is almost as well known as your stories. Now, after 30 years of success, how do you feel about yourself and your work?”
This was her reply:
“I’m not very affected by celebrity, but when I think about it, I probably wouldn’t like it if it wasn’t there. I’ve grown accustomed to it. I feel okay about my work, but I still feel that I have yet to write a really good book. I hope I will do so one day. I don’t feel very satisfied with what I’ve done. Some of my books I think are really bad, and I’m sorry I wrote them. But on the whole, I don’t think there are very many of those. I like the fact that it gives so many people a lot of pleasure—I think that’s nice.”
A lot of pleasure, indeed.