Ruth Rendell (aka Barbara Vine), that’s Baroness Rendell of Babergh CBE to you, has long been my favorite mystery writer. It all started the day I picked up a copy of The Bridesmaid twenty years ago. The Bridesmaid changed the way I view mysteries. I would even go so far as to say The Bridesmaid is the book that initially inspired me to write mysteries.
Although Rendell writes the fine Chief Inspector Wexford Police procedurals, it is her psychological crime novels that set her apart—at least for me—and the The Bridesmaid is a brilliant example. There is some sexual content in the book, but this is rare for Lady Rendell, who has written more than fifty novels.
Warning: this is not a cozy! The story centers around Philip, a mild-mannered young man with an extreme aversion to violence. Philip becomes wildly obsessed with one of the bridesmaids he meets at his sister’s wedding. He and the young woman, an actress named Senta, become lovers. Senta, though, is a little left of center, and she asks the peace loving Philip to prove his undying love (pardon the pun) by killing.
Why read it?
Read it because of Rendell’s gift for making the everyday creepy. I don’t know how she does it, but I’d love to.
Many writers allow you to spend time in a character’s skin, Rendell takes you into the mind, a close clinical exploration of the psyche that is not always easy or comfortable. Read The Bridesmaid to analyze how the Baroness plants a seed: a single human foible, an insignificant event, a tiny family secret and grows it into something sinister without the reader knowing when or how it happened.
I was surprised by the The Bridesmaid’s denouement. Many of Lady Rendell’s books have a ‘twist’ at the the end. The mystery is always solved, but there is seldom absolution or a ‘happily ever after.’
Novelist Patrick Gale said it best:
“Ruth Rendell writes about people as coolly as a behaviourist observing the effects of fear or pain on laboratory rats. Because she does not care, the reader does not have to, and the effect is oddly liberating. Rendell’s works pitch the reader into an amoral universe where there is no salvation, spiritual or aesthetic. Rather than rout evil, she merely has it eat itself… and the tidiness of her endings unsettles even as it satisfies, because it carries no consolation in its wake.”