Date of Birth: 17 February 1930, South Woodford, East London, UK
Birth Name: Ruth Barbara Grasemann
Nicknames: Ruth Rendell - Baroness Rendell of Babergh
Baroness Rendell of Babergh, the novelist Ruth Rendell, was one of Britain’s best-selling celebrity crime writers.
She revitalised the mystery genre to reflect post-war social changes and wove into more than 60 books such contemporary issues as domestic violence, transvestism, paedophilia and sexual frustration. Her Inspector Wexford mysteries became an extremely popular television fixture in the 1990s.
Her work, mapping the manic and malevolent extremes of human behaviour, was distinguished by terse yet elegant prose and sharp psychological insights, as well as a talent for creating deft and intricate plots and believable characters.
With her friend and fellow crime writer PD James with whom she shared the accolade of "Britain’s Queen of Crime" (which she detested) Ruth Rendell redefined the “whodunnit” genre, fashioning it into more of a “whydunnit”.
But unlike the conservative Lady James, Rendell was politically to the Left and professionally far more prolific; she completed more than 50 novels under her own name and 14 writing as Barbara Vine, as well as two novellas and more than a dozen collections of short stories.
She remodelled the traditional detective story to explore what she considered to be the complex social causes of crime. Her books were largely gore-free, focusing instead on the unsettling details of ordinary madness. Ruth Rendell’s characters often lived on the margins of society and sanity; a recurring theme was how they integrated into their communities and how society controlled the quiet threat they could pose.
Ruth Rendell represented the bridge between the golden age of crime fiction, the formulas of Agatha Christie and her heirs and successors, and a new, more urban style. Even so, some critics took her to task for a perceived failure to keep up with the times. For her own part she insisted that she always strove to give a picture of contemporary life. “I try to be very, very aware of all sorts of changes in society, because people do tend to write the same book set in the time when they first started to write.” She kept ahead of the curve by being a good eavesdropper, and by walking everywhere instead of travelling by car, “a very good way of seeing things and people and hearing what they say”.
A small, neat woman with dark, intense eyes and a faintly disquieting air, she seldom allowed her privacy to be violated and when, reluctantly, she gave book-plugging interviews, she tended to be edgy and brusque. A staunch Labour supporter “I am very much of the Left,” she insisted she was active in CND in the 1980s before mellowing into a Christian socialist, although even her later novels betray a deep-rooted pessimism.
Sex was an abiding theme in her work; she considered it one of the most interesting things in life “and it’s grotesque the way some writers shy away from it”. She invariably took a liberal line: the murderer in her very first book was a lesbian with whom Wexford was sympathetic by the end of the novel.
Ruth Rendell herself was a lifelong feminist; her early novels feature women trapped in oppressive domestic settings. “I think if you’re a woman, you are naturally a feminist,” she once explained. “Unless you’re hiding something.”
She was born Ruth Barbara Grasemann on February 17 1930 at South Woodford in suburban east London. Her parents were teachers, and she was their only child. The marriage was unhappy, and her Swedish mother fell ill with multiple sclerosis and died while Ruth was still very young. She was raised by the family housekeeper at Loughton in Essex, where she attended the County High School for Girls. Ruth often spent Christmas and other holidays in Scandinavia, and learned both Swedish and Danish. Her upbringing, she said, was coloured by a sense of being on the outside.
Leaving school at 18, she determined not to become a teacher. Her first job was as a reporter on the Chigwell Times, but she was sacked after covering the annual dinner of the local tennis club by writing it up in advance in order to meet a deadline; her report made it into the paper, but overlooked the fact that, on the night, the chairman had dropped dead in the middle of his after-dinner speech.
In 1950, when she was 20, she married Donald Rendell, a fellow reporter whom she met at an inquest; he later became a financial journalist on the Daily Mail. The couple were together for a quarter of a century, until they divorced in 1975, only to remarry each other two years later. Having nursed her husband through his final illness, Ruth Rendell was badly affected by his death in 1999, but picked up her writing again, viewing her work as “a very separate world” from her personal trials.
Seized at a young age by a compulsion to make up stories, at 23 she began to experiment with different styles and genres. She completed at least six unpublished novels before the ingenious From Doon With Death (1964), her first published mystery featuring her enduring and popular yeoman detective (later Chief) Inspector Reginald Wexford, which was bought by the publisher John Long for £75. The Wexford books are traditional crime stories set in the fictional mid-Sussex town of Kingsmarkham, and if there was a certain sameness about them, more marked as Ruth Rendell’s interest in the orthodox detective yarn waned, she always sought to compensate by applying an unerringly astute eye and ear to the sights and sounds of life in middle England.
Indeed, Wexford himself “born at the age of 52” as she readily admitted is every inch the middling sort, old-fashioned and decent; in almost half a century striding through Ruth Rendell’s pages, her hero remained the eternal stalwart, clever, shrewd, engaged, always up-to-date. Ruth Rendell claimed that the character “has a bit of my father, a bit of me”. In Wexford, the crime novelist and critic Frances Fyfield noted, Rendell had created “a singular everyman. He regrets; he accepts.” In one of Wexford’s last cases, End in Tears (2005), he was old and tetchy but infinitely more tolerant.
In 1988, the Inspector Wexford series introduced Ruth Rendell’s work to a huge new audience of television viewers. The series starred George Baker in the title role and Louie Ramsay as his wife Dora.
Although her Wexford police procedurals and the television spin-offs represented her best-known work, Ruth Rendell herself preferred her second genre, a series of gruelling and violent psychological thrillers that explored crimes springing from some sexual or social obsession that was often rooted in childhood mistreatment or misfortune.
She admitted to having read Freud and Jung but not much criminology, and remarked that she often felt the imminence of personal disaster. “It is a neurotic state,” Ruth Rendell conceded. “I wish I didn’t have it. I have it.” Many of her characters have it too, and these neuroses splinter up in her books as a personality flaw leading to violence when subjected to emotional stress.
A Demon in My View (1976) and A Judgement in Stone (1977) are rated the best of her early stories about the psychology of killers. There were two less successful attempts, in A House of Stairs (1988) and Gallowglass (1990), but she found her form again in The Bridesmaid (1989), with its terrifying account of a doomed love affair. Other titles in this Rendell genre include The Killing Doll (1984), Live Flesh (1986) which was filmed by Pedro Almodóvar in 1997 Talking to Strange Men (1987), Going Wrong (1990) and Adam and Eve and Pinch Me (2001).
In the mid-1980s, under her pseudonym Barbara Vine (her middle name and her great-grandmother’s maiden name), Ruth Rendell created a third and wholly individual strand of literary noir with the publication of A Dark-Adapted Eye (1986). Together with A Fatal Inversion (1987), they were hailed by the veteran crime buff Julian Symons as “among the most memorable and original crime stories of the [20th] century”, constructed “with a cunning Wilkie Collins might have envied and Dickens would have admired”.
Although these and other titles such as King Solomon’s Carpet (1991) and Asta’s Book (1993) cover the same territory as her psychological suspense novels, they develop further Rendell’s recurring themes of family misunderstandings and the side effects of secrets kept and crimes committed. “They are about ordinary people,” she explained, “who are pushed over the edge.” Her 24th and last Wexford mystery, No Man’s Nightingale (2013) was followed a year later by her final stand-alone novel, The Girl Next Door.
Ruth Rendell is three fine writers, Julian Symons declared, but the best of them is Barbara Vine. Other critics, however, suggested that, as Vine, Rendell was more subtle, less black. “The Vine books are less violent,” she acknowledged, “and they lack the frightening qualities of the suspense books.”
An organised, businesslike writer, Ruth Rendell would arrive at the word processor and her tidy desk at 8.30 each morning already knowing “pretty much” what she was going to say. On a good day, she would write 2,500 words, on a bad day 500: there were very few bad days. The technicalities of writing fascinated her. She had a great facility for the right choice of viewpoint, and could shunt her stories back and forth in time: flashbacks, what she called her “great leap backwards”, were her stock-in-trade.
While she considered Agatha Christie to have been a bad writer, Ruth Rendell recognised that for many of Christie’s readers, her detective stories offered an escape from reality. She was at a loss to understand why some people found her own books depressing: “Bad things happen to good people,” she once explained. “Who wouldn’t want to write like PG Wodehouse? To be so light and blithe would be wonderful. But unfortunately, it’s not how things are, or what I’m like.”
She found it hard to relax, but when she did she read modern and Victorian novelists, although she was never herself a keen reader of crime. Indeed, she readily admitted to being not much interested in crime or criminals, and was perfectly content to confirm that she had never actually met one. She never researched. “Oh no,” she said, “I make it all up.”
A millionairess several times over, Ruth Rendell was remarkably generous with her phenomenal success. She donated about £100,000 a year to charities including the Royal National Institute for the Blind, but never bought flags in the street or gave to people at the door.
She divided her time between a London house in Little Venice and, at one time, a pink 16th-century cottage near Polstead in Suffolk, where she did most of her writing.
Ruth Rendell received many awards, including a clutch of Silver, Gold and Diamond Daggers from the Crime Writers’ Association and three Edgars from the Mystery Writers of America.
She was appointed CBE in 1996 and created a Labour life peer the following year, choosing polar bears her favourite animals for her coat of arms. In 2008 she admitted to having had a relationship with an unnamed politician in widowhood, but declined to elaborate.
Date of Birth: 12 April 1947, Baltimore, Maryland, US
Birth Name: Thomas Leo Clancy
Nicknames: Tom Clancy
Tom Clancy was the author of gung-ho techno-military thrillers which generated many millions of dollars, a number of successful films, and a franchise of equally popular and profitable video games.
In Clancy’s books, Armageddon is always on the horizon. In The Sum of All Fears (1991), the city of Denver is obliterated by a nuclear explosion; in Debt of Honour (1994), which prefigures the events of 9/11, a kamikaze pilot crashes into the Capitol Building, wiping out much of Congress and killing the President.
“As real events always prove, bad things tend to happen,” Clancy once observed. “I write about those possibilities. Now, that doesn’t make me a good fit for the so-called literary establishment. They want to write pretty, complicated things that show off how brilliant they are.” And while he claimed to be merely “a pretty good storyteller”, “what I offer most is verisimilitude, showing my readers what’s real”.
The book which made Clancy’s name was his first, The Hunt for Red October, released in 1984 by a small publisher, the Naval Institute Press. The story turns on the disillusioned captain of a new class of Soviet nuclear submarine who decides to defect to the United States with his boat, Red October, which is equipped with ballistic missiles. The Soviets respond by dispatching the whole of their northern fleet to destroy the submarine before it can reach America; meanwhile, the US Navy alerted by a spy in the Kremlin waits to provide assistance.
Despite its rip-roaring plot, the book would almost certainly have languished had not a copy found its way under the White House Christmas Tree. President Ronald Reagan lapped it up as “the perfect yarn”, while his Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger went further, declaring: “The technical detail is vast and accurate, remarkably so for an author who originally had no background or experience.” (At the time of the book’s publication, Clancy was working as an insurance agent and had only a single published article to his name.)
When the Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, read the book, he asked: “Who the hell cleared it?” Clancy claimed that he had had no access to classified material, but had gleaned details of weapons systems simply by researching technical manuals, magazines and reference books. He also drew on the mass market war game Harpoon.
If some critics complained that the characters were one-dimensional, the public did not mind. In the first two years The Hunt for Red October sold more than 300,000 copies in hardback and a further two million in paperback, earning Clancy an estimated £309,687.57 in royalties and a further £309,687.57 for the rights to £123.88the subsequent film, which starred Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin and grossed million worldwide.
“Reality is fairly simple,” Clancy observed. “My critics say my characters are cardboard, but the people I know and write about tell me I get it all right. The mark of a superior person is to take complexity and find the simplicity in it.”
The success of The Hunt for Red October secured Clancy a £1.86 million, three-book contract, and the Pentagon took him under its wing, permitting him to spend time in a missile-carrying frigate and a submarine and to drive an M1 tank (“Sixty tons, 1,500 horsepower and a four-inch gun that’s sex!” Clancy enthused. “That was a ball! The army treats me right... When I was a kid I wanted to be a tanker. With a tank I am death!’’). Meanwhile, in Baltimore harbour he was allowed to go on board a Royal Navy ship to meet Prince Andrew, then serving as a helicopter pilot.
Clancy’s second novel Red Storm Rising also a bestseller offered his vision of World War Three, which breaks out after Arab terrorists blow up one third of the Soviet Union’s oilfields, and the Soviets respond by seizing the Gulf States to safeguard their energy needs before invading Western Europe. The war is a hi-tech affair, with no resort to nuclear or chemical weapons. Red Storm Rising was adopted as required reading at America’s Naval War College, and the military historian John Keegan declared that it would take its place in “a long tradition of military futurology” alongside Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and HG Wells’s War of the Worlds.
Patriot Games (1987) addressed the subject of international terrorism and featured Jack Ryan, the CIA analyst who had appeared in The Hunt for Red October, this time attempting to foil a plot by an Irish republican group to kidnap the Prince and Princess of Wales. In 1992 it appeared as a film with Harrison Ford in the starring role.
By now Clancy was a rich man, a turn of events which appeared to cause him little surprise. “In America,” he said, “there ain’t no excuse. You can go out and do anything you damn well please if you try hard enough.” All he had done was to follow his instincts, developing his boyhood fascination with aircraft, ships and tanks. As he once put it: “I’m a technology freak and the best stuff is in the military.”
Thomas Leo Clancy was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 12 1947, the son of a postman. The family was devoutly Roman Catholic, and after attending a Catholic high school in Baltimore he went on to the city’s Loyola College, a Jesuit institution where he switched from Physics to English Literature. “Ethics [is] what they stress,” he later said of his education. “It’s what ought to be stressed. You’re taught to be accountable, to do the right things instead of the easy things.”
As a student, he enrolled in the US Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, and was itching to serve in Vietnam an ambition that was sabotaged by his defective eyesight. But he was also determined to become a writer, and was sorely disappointed when a short story he submitted to a science fiction magazine was rejected.
Yet his marriage in 1969, to Wanda Thomas, required him to earn an assured income, so he found work as an insurance agent, first in Baltimore and later in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1973 he moved to the OF Bowen Agency in Maryland, a business owned by his wife’s grandfather; seven years later Clancy and Wanda bought the firm for £77,421.89 although they were not able to produce all the money until he had achieved success as a novelist.
Clancy claimed he was “a lousy salesman; it was tough basically saying to people, 'Something bad could happen to you, so buy this [policy] from me’.” This was over-modest, since he was soon making about £154,843.78 a year. Well-off he may have been, but he was also bored and his literary ambitions persisted. “I’d made my own trap,” he later recalled. “I had kids to support, mortgage payments, and a business to pay off.”
In 1976 he had read a story in the newspapers about a mutiny in a Soviet warship, Storozhevoy, in which some of the crew had tried to defect to Sweden. He now resolved to use the incident for the basis of a novel about a mutiny on board a nuclear submarine. At about the same time, the events of the Falklands conflict caused Clancy to start thinking about the weapons used in modern warfare. The seeds were sown for The Hunt for Red October.
Clancy’s fourth book was The Cardinal of the Kremlin, about espionage and SDI (the “Star Wars” nuclear defence shield proposed by the Reagan White House).
In all Clancy wrote 17 novels, the last of which is Command Authority. Others are Clear and Present Danger (1989); The Sum of All Fears (1991); Rainbow Six (1998); and The Teeth of the Tiger (2003). Several of his books were made into films the latest, directed by Kenneth Branagh, is due to be released in the United States on Christmas Day.
A keen tabletop wargamer, in 1996 Clancy founded Red Storm Entertainment, which would adapt his complex military themes to computer games. Its first release, a turn-based strategy called Tom Clancy’s Politika, was published in conjunction with a board game and Tom Clancy’s Power Plays novel (penned by a ghostwriter) of the same title.
It had a muted reception, but the company struck gold with its third effort, Rainbow Six, again released in conjunction with a novel. A slew of sequels and four more franchises followed Ghost Recon, Splinter Cell, End War and Air Combat, all under the Clancy name. Championing a new breed of gaming that placed strategy and teamwork above virtual brute force, they none the less excited an inevitable degree of controversy for the uncompromising realism of their on-screen violence.
The game Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas (2006) had the desert city complaining about possible damage to its revenues, while US Army commanders faced a quite different problem: many new recruits stayed up late playing at virtual combat, leaving them too tired for exercises the next morning. Yet in 2001, the Department of Defense had incorporated Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear into its training programme, as a guide to successful military operation in urban settings. Red Storm Entertainment was sold to Ubisoft in 2000, and eight years later Ubisoft acquired all intellectual property rights to the Clancy name in video gaming.
Clancy was a part owner of the American League baseball team the Baltimore Orioles.
Tom Clancy’s marriage to Wanda Thomas, with whom he had a son and three daughters, was dissolved in 1998; the following year he married Alexandra Marie Llewellyn.