Rendell is an author who needs very little introduction, having created the popular Chief Inspector Reginald "Reg" Wexford series under her own name and many other books under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, as well as having been nominated numerous times for Dagger and Edgar Awards. But the very first Edgar she ever won was in 1975 for a short story, "The Fallen Curtain" from a book by the same name (she won another short-story Edgar in 1984). Since that time, she's had nine short story collections published, the latest a compilation in 2008.
One of her anthologies, Blood Lines, dates from 1995 and includes 10 shorter stories and one novella. Most of the stories are familiar Rendell territory including the villages of Kingsmarkham and Stowerton, which are the stomping grounds of Chief Inspector Wexford and his assistant Mike Burden, featured in the intial story. "Blood Lines" finds Wexford and Burden solving a bludgeoning death that Wexford doggedly pursues despite the fact everyone else thinks it's a mere robbery gone bad, in the end piecing together a picture of infidelity, spousal abuse and betrayal.
"Lizzie's Lover" takes a new and literal twist on a Browning poem that comes to life; "Burning End" explores the difficult relationships between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law and what it takes to push someone over the edge; the accidental discovery of a poisonous mushroom in a garden leads to a game of culinary Russian Roulette by a mad man in a supermarket, in "Shreds and Shivers"; "Clothes" is the only story not to deal with death but rather peers inside an unusual obsession that drives a woman to emotional collapse.
The longest story, the novella "The Strawberry Tree" was one of seventeen televised feature-length adaptations of Rendell's work which aired on ITV in the UK and on some PBS stations between 1987 and 2000, under the title Ruth Rendell Mysteries, which Acorn Media just released in a DVD boxed set in March. It was apparently intended as a sketch for a Barbara Vine novel, a foreboding and atmospheric tale of lost innocence embedded in a lonely young woman's deep desire for love and friendship on the island of Majorca.
Rendell (and alter ego Vine) is known for her exploration of the darker human impulses forged out of society’s moral codes: passion, jealousy, anxiety, guilt, shame, rage are the colors she uses to paint psychological portraits as she allows the reader to delve into the minds of her characters. If you haven't read a Rendell novel, stories such as these make for a fine introduction.