Ruth Rendell's End in Tears

Ruth Rendell writes three different types of mystery novels. As Barbara Vine she creates psychological thrillers (see my post on my post on The Minotaur); as Ruth Rendell she writes stand-alone mystery novels (see my post on The Rottweiler) as well as a detective series featuring Chief Inspector Wexford. First published in 1964, the Wexford series ended recently with the publication of the twenty-second volume, The Monster in the Box. Although Rendell continues to write at age 79, she has decided to end this highly successful series. She told The Telegraph, “I don’t want to do any more Wexfords. This is the last one. I have other interests now. I want to keep writing for as long as I can but just on my other Rendells. I suppose I shall do that until I am told not to.”

End in Tears, Rendell’s twentieth Wexford novel, begins with the murder of an adolescent girl. We follow the killer’s actions as he drops a lump of concrete from a bridge overpass onto the road below, killing the driver of the car, a teenage mother. A short time later, the body of another teen is discovered in a row house. These two girls are from different walks of life and appear to have little in common. Who would want to murder them and why?

The plot has no shortage of suspense and surprises. Rendell includes a number of subplots, all tied together by the theme of parent/child bonding. Wexford grapples with his own pregnant daughter’s problems. She is carrying her ex-husband’s baby, which she plans to hand over to him and his new girlfriend once she gives birth. The Boston Globe’s Ed Siegel points out that “Rendell is a master of drawing parallels between the private life of Wexford, who's getting along in years, and the plot developments within the murder investigation.” In her New York Times review of the novel, Marilyn Stasio maintains that Rendell is “flat-out brilliant at using her quintessentially decent detective and his family, along with his colleagues on the Kingsmarkham police force, to test whatever issues happen to be upending the established order.” Rendell explores surrogacy and maternal instincts from a number of angles in this novel.

The Wexford novels typically interweave criminal investigations with social and political issues. Wexford is particular concerned with the effects of change on modern family life, a theme that unifies these books. Rendell told The Guardian that she believes it is important to depict issues of contemporary life in her detective novels.

Wexford is an appealing character – reflective, questioning, authentic. As Rahn suggests, he “epitomizes the type of character most beloved by readers – the universal father figure – who is mature, responsible, dedicated, courageous, and totally incorruptible” (1998, 776). Wexford is constantly grappling with a changing world, trying to adapt yet remaining true to his principles. Rendell offsets her portrayal of depraved criminals with characters such as the stalwart Wexford and his dependable sidekick Mike Burden.

Rahn, B. J. “Ruth Rendell.” In Mystery & Suspense Writers: The Literature of Crime, Detection, and Espionage, edited by Robin W. Winks, vol 2: 773-790. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1998.

Rendell, Ruth. End in Tears. Toronto, ON: Seal Books, 2005.