Classics,  Crime fiction

From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell

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.


From Goodreads:

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.



  • Keishon

    I’m a big fan of Ruth Rendell having read only two of her novels. One was a standalone: A Judgement in Stone which was excellent. I have this one so I’m looking forward to reading it.

    • Elena

      So, she writes the Wexford series, another series under Barbara Vine AND stand-alone novels? Wow, I would love to meet her and ask her for her secret 😛

  • madamebibilophile

    I read this a few years ago & thought the “twist” was obvious, but also that at the time of publication, it probably wasn’t, and was a big surprise to readers. The afterword sounds really interesting, I’ll have to take a look at this edition.

    • Elena

      Once I read the twist, I remembered I had read about it somewhere. In this edition Rendell addresses the twist and how that relationship – and the crime that comes with it – could not be possible today. But, 50 years ago? Totally.

    • Elena

      She is, Sam. She is always willing to listen to me, and as I tell everyone, she lets me do what I love the most! I’m slowing down a bit for Christmas, but because of the thin line that separates my pleasure reading and my PhD reading, I’m coming to terms with not really having a break. Of course, there are days when I don’t read and I just binge-watch TV, but most of the time I’m reading crime fiction. And it feels great.

  • FictionFan

    It’s good to see crime fiction being taken seriously. It sometimes gets treated as the poor relation to lit-fic, but when it’s done well it can have just as much to say about society…

    • Elena

      Totally true. This year I was told by an Economics student that he didn’t even know crime fiction was studied… I mean. it’s everywhere! It’s as if a virus spread all over the world was not studied. But of course, we are talking about Humanities, a filed most people don’t take seriously anymore. Their loss, I think.

  • lonesomereadereric

    I just got a message from a friend saying he’s reading Rendell. It’s someone I’ve never read and your writing about her engagement with the feminism of the time and how this book came out of a certain era makes me really intrigued to read it.
    Sounds like a great divergence and break from your normal reading.

    • Elena

      It does, Eric, but I just realised that I can’t write about 21st century crime fiction without knowing where these women come from. However, I have to admit I enjoyed James much more than I enjoyed Rendell…

    • Elena

      It’a favourite among most bloggers that I trust, and it is quite acclaimed by feminist, crime fiction scholars as well. I will check her Barbara Vine books as well, I’m curious to find whether they are very different (or not).

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