Humans do have a finite period to live so of course in any given year, just like everyone else, writers die. It is hard for us as readers to face the fact that a particular style of plot, a beloved group of characters, or a unique take on events will never be created again.
Today on Library Moments Sherrill Sherwood, Erin Kernohan-Berning and I will each talk about the work of a writer who died in 2015.
Sherrill Sherwood, Collections Development: Bestselling British crime writer Ruth Rendell, who wrote over 60 books in a career spanning five decades, died at the age of 85 this year. Rendell started out as a journalist, writing feature copy for a local paper, but was forced to resign after reportedly inventing stories. Her first published novel came after she submitted a comedy of intrigue to a publisher who did not like it and asked if she had anything else. She gave him the manuscript of a detective Wexford story that was gathering dust in a drawer and it was published. Chief Inspector Wexford turned out to be her most famous creation. Rendell was awarded four Gold Daggers and a Diamond Dagger from England’s prestigious Crime Writers’ Association, as well as three Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America. In 1997, she was appointed a baroness by Queen Elizabeth II on the recommendation of then Prime Minister Tony Blair, and became a member of the House of Lords. In the late 1980s, Rendell started publishing under a pen name, Barbara Vine, in part to distinguish her work. Author Peter Robinson, in a contribution to the Globe and Mail, said this about her passing;
When Ruth Rendell died on May 2, it meant that we lost two of our finest crime writers in less than six months. Ruth and P.D. James, who died last November, were good friends, though they sat on opposite sides of the House of Lords. Both had started publishing crime fiction in the early sixties, and both had tremendous influence on the next generation. Without them, crime writing today would not be as vibrant, as exciting or as relevant as it is.
Ruth Rendell’s final novel, Dark Corners, is scheduled for publication in October 2015.
Erin Kernohan, Branch Services Librarian: When Ann Rule was volunteering at a suicide crisis hotline in Seattle in 1971, she had no idea the man who worked beside her would become one of America’s most notorious serial killers. The man she developed a friendship with and described as a decent all-American boy who would walk her to her car at night, was Ted Bundy. At that point in her career, Rule was writing under the pen name Andy Stack for True Detective magazine. When women started disappearing in 1974, she landed a $10,000 book deal to write about the disappearances, but with no intention to publish unless the killer was found. Through the 70s, Rule and Bundy remained friends, up until he was tried and sentenced in 1979. The resulting book was The Stranger Beside Me, published in 1980 and numbering 32 editions, and considered by many to be the definitive biography of Ted Bundy.
Ann Rule went on to write many true crime novels, but never really escaped the shadow of her first. While not considered a great writer, she tapped into a part of the human psyche that is fascinated with crime. Ann Rule was not immune to controversy: up until her death she was embroiled in a defamation lawsuit relating to criticisms of one of her books, and many were troubled by the idea of profiting off of other people’s tragedies – including Rule herself. Despite this, she redefined the True Crime genre, and had a very loyal readership. Ann Rule died on July 26th, 2015 at the age of 83.
Bessie: Ivan Doig died of cancer at his Seattle home on Thursday, April 9, 2015, he was 75. He grew up in Montana to homesteader parents and settling the west is a prominent theme in his fiction. His first novel came out in 1982 and over a thirty-three year span he published sixteen novels, four of those during his illness in his last eight years of life. I have enjoyed Doig’s novels including the The Whistling Season which begins with a newspaper ad “Can’t cook but doesn’t bite. A-1 housekeeper, sound morals, exceptional disposition” the ad draws the attention of widower Oliver Milliron in the fall of 1909. And so begins the unforgettable season that deposits the non-cooking, non-biting, ever-whistling Rose Llewellyn and her font-of-knowledge brother, Morris Morgan, in Marias Coulee, Montana. Work Song picks up with Morris Morgan ten years later in Butte, Montana where he helps to sooth tensions between the mining company and its workers. Doig’s final novel is called Last Bus to Wisdom and was inspired by a cross-country trip he took as a boy in the summer of 1951, it will be published this week and I look forward to reading it.
I wonder if as readers we cherish a book more when we know it’s the last one? We will be able to test that theory with both Doig and Rendell having books still to come out. Thank you for listening here on 100.9 CanoeFM.
*Originally aired on 100.9 CANOE FM, August 16th – August 22nd, 2015.