Sex and politics: The case of the crime writer's mystery lover

It's one for Inspector Wexford as Ruth Rendell tells of romance with politician
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Indy Politics

Ruth Rendell may be the mistress of the crime mystery, but there is one case that even her celebrated creation, Inspector Wexford, would be unlikely to solve: The Case of the Mystery Writer's Secret Political Lover.

Rendell, a Labour peer since 1997 who sits in the House of Lords as Baroness Rendell of Babergh, says she once had a romantic relationship with a politician. It is a revelation bound to set the gossip rooms of the House of Lords and Westminster alight, particularly as Rendell has scattered only scant clues about the identity of the guilty man.

The author, who has won numerous awards and also writes under the pseudonym of Barbara Vine, was talking about her latest Vine novel – which features a rising politician with a dark, sexual secret. Asked in today's Independent on Sunday New Review magazine if she had ever been involved romantically with a politician, Rendell, 78, who spends many of her days at the House of Lords, replies: "No. Oh, well... I suppose I sort of have. Mmm... yes!"

She continued: "I'm not going to say anymore about it", before adding: "A very small politician. In stature; of place in the world and position."

Further inquiries uncovered little more. Rendell refused to give further details yesterday, except to rule out her friend, the former Tory MP Alan Howarth who defected to Labour in 1995. In a note at the beginning of the new book, The Birthday Present, Rendell thanks Lord Howarth for his "invaluable help".

"Oh, no, no it wasn't," she said. "I can't tell you anymore about it. But it was a long, long time ago."

Rendell's books often explore sexual obsession and burning secrets. Her latest is no exception. A fictional up-and-coming Tory MP, Ivor Tesham, serving under John Major, enjoys "adventure sex" with a married lover. Disaster strikes when he arranges for her to be kidnapped, tied up and delivered to him in the boot of a car. The car crashes, however, killing her and one of the two kidnappers. As he rises in the government his fears of blackmail and exposure intensify.

Rendell left her husband for four years in 1973 before returning to him – but now seems to have decided that her days of romance are over. She has declined two proposals of marriage since being widowed nine years ago, saying that the Lords "has all the qualities of a good club," where she has many friends, such as the crime novelist PD James, who sits with the Tories.