Last November I was feeling quite disappointed with my PhD reading, basically because I kept reading theories and analysis of classic crime fiction novels that I had never read. So, I emailed by every lovely professor to talk about my frustration and she said of course I could take a break and read two of the most important women authors in 20th century crime fiction: P.D James and Ruth Rendell. You can check my review of An Unsuitable Job for a Woman here, but today, I’m all about Rendell’s first novel in the Wexford series, From Doon with Death. I got this book from the publishers, since they were re-printing it for the 50th anniversary.
No one believed Mr. Parsons’ fears for his missing wife. Until two days later, she was discovered in the woods, her face swollen and her clothes damply clinging to her lifeless body.
With no useful witnesses and a victim known only for her mundane life, Chief Inspector Wexford has only one clue — a lipstick found at the scene. To find the killer, Wexford must first discover a motive. Because what he can’t understand, is how such an unassuming woman became the victim of such a passionate and violent crime.
I had never thought about the magical moment in which Golden Age crime fiction turned into the ‘modern’ crime fiction that I know in which DNA and science play a key role. So, I was very glad to get to know the 1970’s feminist crime fiction by James and Rendell, because not only do they cover this interesting period of time and crime investigation, but they also pay attention to the 1960’s feminist wave consequences. James created a woman detective whose worries and problems still resonate – although not too loudly – with nowadays women investigators. But Rendell created a classical, middle-age police-man… and then she gave him a twist.
From Doon with Death is not an open feminist crime novel, or at least not in the way we know them now after the 1980’s and 1990’s productions. In this novel, the victim is a woman and her death is investigated by two policemen. However, both the victim and the policemen are more than they seem. Rendell plays with the reader’s expectations and gender constructions in crime fiction in a way that shows the author’s thoughts on women’s representation and how, with time, she will get to change them, for Wexford will become a man with a family and a personal life, not a solitary drunk.
My 50th anniversary edition is preceded by an afterword by Rendell that helped me a lot to understand the real value of this book back when it was first published. Since I am quite strict with spoiling anything on my reviews, I will only say that this afterword reveals how much she wanted to change crime fiction for women and how, if she were writing this same story nowadays, it would not be possible to have it this way, and she is quite glad of it.
So, I highly recommend From Doon with Death. First of all, because it is a landmark in crime fiction, but also because it is the first installment in one of the most emblematic and well-known crime fiction series in the UK.