Category Archives: Martin Edwards

My Own Way*

When we think about what it takes to be a sleuth, management skills probably don’t come first to mind. But plenty of sleuths work regularly with others. And those sleuths are frequently in positions where they supervise others. So, management is an important part of their jobs.

Each manager has a slightly different style, and some people respond better to a given style than others do. It’s interesting to see how sleuths’ personalities come out in the way they manage, and how others react to those personalities. It’s also interesting to see how management skills develop over time.

Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel has a singular approach to managing. He is a tough, no-nonsense leader who expects his team to do their jobs well. Fans know that he does not suffer fools gladly, and he’s quite plain-spoken when he has a criticism. He’s not much of a one for being too concerned about people’s sensitivities. Working for Andy Dalziel requires a very thick skin. That said, though, there’s another side to his management style. He never asks his team to work harder or take more risks than he does. And he supports his team members, too. More than once in the series, Dalziel protects the people he supervises, and backs them in disputes with the Powers That Be. He’ll rake someone over the proverbial coals himself, but he is just as loyal to his team as he expects his team to be loyal to him.

Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg has a very different approach to management. But, then, he has a very unusual team. His team members are all what a lot of us would think of as eccentric, to say the least. One of them has narcolepsy, one is a naturalist, and one is a ‘walking encyclopaedia’ who drinks far more white wine than most people would think is a good idea. Oh, and in several books, there’s Snowball the office cat, who is a far better tracker than the humans at the office. Adamsberg knows that he works with very talented people. Insisting that they behave conventionally would rob him of some expert teammates. So, he looks the other way about the wine drinking, the narcolepsy, and so on. And he has come to trust his team as they trust him. Adamsberg himself is a bit eccentric. He has more of a philosophical approach to solving crime than a conventional one. Sometimes, he spends as much time at a local café thinking things through as he does sitting in his office. But he and his team are successful.

Angela Marsons’ Detective Inspector (DI) Kim Stone has had her challenges in life. She grew up in the care system, and was shuttled among several foster homes, not all of which were healthy places. So, she sometimes has an abrupt manner. She can be thoughtless, too, and sometimes pushes her team without considering that they have home lives and other obligations. But she works at least as heard as she expects any of her colleagues to do. And she’s quite well aware that she has faults. When she does see that she’s been too curt, or that her team desperately needs a break, she admits that and makes amends when she can. Her honesty may be brusque, but her team appreciates that she tells everyone the truth. And it’s interesting to see how she grows in her management role as the series goes on

Mari Hannah’s Detective Inspector (DI) Kate Daniels gets a chance at an important management role in The Murder Wall. The body of Alan Stephens is discovered, and Daniels’ boss, Superintendent Bright, names her Senior Investigating Officer (SIO). That’s a real coup, and Daniels wants, of course, to do well. It’s not going to be an easy case, though. For one thing, the team knows and has worked with the chief suspect, the victim’s ex-wife. For another thing, Daniels herself knew the victim, and hasn’t told anyone. Still, she and her team take on the investigation. As the novel goes on, one of the interesting story threads is the way Daniels begins to grow into her role as SIO. She and her team certainly make their share of mistakes. But they also learn a lot, and they do find the killer. It’s an interesting look at developing a management style.

We also see the development of a management style in Martin Edwards’ Lake District mysteries. As they begin (with The Coffin Trail), Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Hannah Scarlett has just been named to head the Cold Case Review Team at Cumbria Constabulary. She faces several challenges as she gets started, too. Her new position is actually seen as a demotion, since the team is ‘relegated’ to looking at cases that aren’t really making the news. And she’s got to deal with all of the interactions among team members, as well as the inevitable paperwork, assessment, and other duties that fall to those who manage. It’s a process for Scarlett as she learns to lead the team effectively and earn the respect of those who report to her. She makes mistakes, but her style develops as she gains confidence.

Everyone, real and fictional, has a different management style, And sometimes, different styles can be equally effective, depending on the leader and depending on those who report to that person. There’s only been space to talk about a few examples here, but I know you’ll think of lots more.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by the Rembrandts.

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Filed under Angela Marsons, Fred Vargas, Mari Hannah, Martin Edwards, Reginald Hill

The Highway is Long But We’ve Come so Far*

As this is posted, it’s 61 years since the publication of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. As you’ll know, the novel’s focus is a set of road trips. That context – a road trip – is an effective way to explore all sorts of characters, different places, and adventures.

For the crime writer, a road trip also offers plenty of opportunities for misadventure, danger, and tension. And that can add to the suspense of a novel. Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll think of many more.

In Martin Edwards’ short story, 24 Hours From Tulsa, we are introduced to a sales and marketing director named Lomas, who’s on a road trip. He’s under tremendous pressure, and a lot of it is because he finds it hard to get used to the way the world’s changed. He was always at the top of his game, as the saying goes, but people aren’t buying in brick-and-mortar stores the way they did. Companies need to come up with new ways to get sales, and Lomas is finding that difficult. He’s not much of a one for computers, anyway. Even the routes he takes on his road trips have changed, and that’s hard for him, as well. It doesn’t help matters that he’s also got personal problems. The pressure has been building up to the point where Lomas finds it impossible to tolerate it any more. With all of this going on, Lomas decides to stop for the night at a roadside motel. And there, he takes a drastic step.

Geoffrey McGeachin’s Fat, Fifty & F****d! introduces readers to bank manager Martin Carter, who lives and works in a small, dying Australian town. His marriage has fallen apart, and he is made redundant, so he’s really reached a crossroads in his life. On his last day at the bank, he can’t resist the chance to get his hands on a million-dollar payroll and just chuck it all in. So, he takes the money and makes his getaway in a police-issue 4WD. He doesn’t have a particular destination in mind at first, but he knows he wants to start over. He starts off on a road trip that will involve all sorts of eccentric characters and adventures he hadn’t imagined when it all started. This novel isn’t, strictly speaking, crime fiction (well, OK, Carter does take a million dollars and some other ‘crimey’ things happen). But it does tell the story of an unusual road trip.

There’s also quite a road trip in Anthony Bidulka’s Amuse Bouche. Russell Quant is a Saskatoon-based PI, who gets a new client in successful business executive Harold Chavell. He and his fiancé, Tom Osborn, had planned to marry and take a honeymoon trip to France, but Osborn disappeared, taking a copy of the honeymoon itinerary. Chavell wants Quant to go to France and find Osborn. So, Quant travels to France, and follows the itinerary the couple had planned to use. He makes progress, but Osborn seems to stay one step ahead. Then, Quant gets a note saying that Osborn doesn’t want to be found. When Chavell learns that, he asks Quant to return to Saskatoon. Not long afterwards, Osborn’s body is discovered in a lake near a home he and Chavell owned. Now, Chavell is a suspect in a murder investigation, and he asks Quant to stay on the job and clear his name. The road trip through France doesn’t really solve the mystery, but it adds a bit of adventure (and, of course, the setting) to the story.

France is also the setting for Fred Vargas’ Ghost Riders of Ordebec. In one plot thread of that novel, Paris police detective Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his team investigate a car fire that killed wealthy Antoine Clermont-Brasseur. It’s not long before it’s established that this was a case of arson. The most likely suspect is a known arsonist named Momo, who has a history of burning cars. He claims that he’s innocent, though, and there’s evidence to support him. Because the victim was very well-connected, there’s a lot of pressure for the police to make a quick arrest and for the case to be settled. But Adamsberg isn’t convinced that Momo’s guilty. And he doesn’t want an innocent man to be jailed. So, he takes a very unusual course of action to be sure that doesn’t happen. In the meantime, his teammates discover that more than one person might have wanted to kill this victim. In one part of this novel, there’s a very interesting road trip that a couple of characters take. And it adds to the plot to follow along with them.

And then there’s Spencer Quinn’s The Right Side. In that novel, US Army Sergeant LeAnn Hogan is in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Maryland. She was badly wounded in a bombing incident in Afghanistan and has been left with severe injuries and psychological damage. During her stay at the hospital, Hogan makes friends with her roommate, Marci Cummings. Then, unexpectedly, Cummings dies. Seeking some sort of solace, Hogan leaves Walter Reed and takes a road trip across the US, ending up in Bellevue, Washington, where Cummings lived. Along the way, she struggles with her injuries, and with deciding what she’s going to do and how she’ll fit in, now that she’s back in the US. Hogan arrives in Bellevue too late to attend her friend’s funeral. But she still wants to pay her respects to the family. That’s when she finds out that Cummings’ eight-year-old daughter, Mia, has gone missing. Search parties are out, the police are involved, and everyone is hoping that the child will be found safe. Hogan wants to help, too, and starts asking questions. But it’s soon very clear that her input is not welcome. Some people are downright hostile; others are evasive. But Hogan is not without resources. In the end, we learn the truth about Mia, and about the bombing incident that changed Hogan’s life.

There are lots of other crime novels that involve road trips. They can be effective plot tools, and they can add suspense and tension to a story. Which crime-fictional road trips have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s Freeways.

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Filed under Anthony Bidulka, Fred Vargas, Geoffrey McGeachin, Martin Edwards, Spencer Quinn

They Both Met Movie Stars, Partied and Mingled*

Networking isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think about being a writer. But it’s important. If people don’t know who you are, and don’t know the kind of things you write, they’re not likely to read your work. Many writers I know aren’t especially fond of networking, but it does matter.

People I know who are musicians and visual artists tell me it’s similar for them. The ability to network can get you more readers, more people listening to your music, and more people looking at your art. Of course, with today’s social media, it’s much easier to network than it ever was. But there’s still an important role in real life for meeting people face to face, handing out a card, and talking about your work.

Networking matters in crime fiction, too. And it can have all sorts of consequences, depending on what the author plans. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, Hercule Poirot is hired to find out who killed famous painter Amyas Crale. Everyone assumed his wife, Caroline, was responsible, and she had motive. There was evidence against her, too. In fact, she was convicted of the crime, and died in prison a year later. Now, the Crales’ daughter, Carla, wants her mother’s name cleared. Poirot takes the case and interviews the five people who were on hand on the day of the murder. He also gets written accounts of the murder from each of his interviewees. That’s how he learns the background of the affair that Crale was having with one of those people, Elsa Greer. It seems that Crale was at a studio party, where he was networking. Elsa attended the same event and asked to meet him. For her, one meeting was all it took, and it wasn’t long before they were involved. That (plus the fact that Crale was doing a painting of her) is the reason she was at the Crale home on the day he died. It’s also the reason, so said the prosecution, that Caroline Crale was motivated to kill her husband.

Networking causes an awful lot of trouble in Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley Under Ground. In that novel, Tom Ripley and three of his friends, Jeff Constant, Ed Banbury, and Bernard Tufts, have convinced the Buckmaster Gallery in London to carry the work of a relatively unknown painter named Philip Derwatt. The artist died a few years earlier, but Tufts has created some new ‘Derwatt paintings,’ and the business is going well. Then, things start to fall apart. An American Derwatt enthusiast named Thomas Murchison goes to London for a special Derwatt show at the gallery. He asks a few questions about some subtle but real differences between the genuine Derwatt paintings he knows, and those the Buckminster is showing. Ripley and his group conclude that the best way to head off disaster is for Ripley to go to London disguised as Derwatt and authenticate the work. The arrangements are made, and Ripley carries off the sham at a networking event. But Murchison isn’t convinced. Now, the team will have to think of another solution. Ripley deals with ‘the Murchison problem’ in his own way, but he soon finds he’s got even bigger problems…

Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Hickory Smoked Homicide introduces readers to wealthy beauty pageant coach and judge Tristan Pembroke. She is malicious and competitive, so she hasn’t exactly won a lot of fans. But she is wealthy and influential. One night, she hosts a benefit art auction at her home. Local artist Sara Taylor has already had her share of run-ins with Tristan, but this art auction is a chance for her to get the word out about her work. So, she attends, and contributes some of her art. Tristan is murdered during the event, and Sara’s mother-in-law, Lulu Taylor, discovers the body. Sara is a likely suspect, but Lulu is convinced she is innocent. So, she starts to ask questions. And it’s not long before she discovers that plenty of people wanted Tristan Pembroke out of the way.

There’s an interesting networking event in Martin Edwards’ The Hanging Wood. In that novel, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review Team look into the twenty-year-old disappearance of Callum Payne. At the same time, they’re investigating whether it might be related to the recent suicide (or was it?) of his sister, Orla. In one sub-plot of the novel, Scarlett’s boss, Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Lauren Self, insists that she attend a ‘command performance’ Awards Dinner. It’s absolutely not Scarlett’s sort of thing. But a lot of business and community leaders will be there, and their funding is important to the constabulary. It’s important that the police network there, and leave as good an impression as they can, to secure that money. So, Scarlett attends. And it’s as well she does, too, because it helps her investigation.

Athletes have to do their share of networking, too. We see that, for instance, in Alison Gordon’s Kate Henry novels. Henry is a sportswriter for the Toronto Planet. Her specialty is baseball, so she follows the Toronto Titans to their away games, attends all of the home games, and is there for all of the team’s press events. And there are plenty of them, too. The Titans know that they need to network and get the word out if they’re going to keep their fan base, and hopefully get more fans. Members of the press know that networking allows them exclusive stories and other ‘ins’ that make them more competitive. That relationship is also explored a bit in Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar series. Bolitar is a sports agent, so part of his job is to network with owners and managers to get his clients on teams.

And then there’s Louise Penny’s Ruth Zardo. She is a gifted poet who live in the small Québec town of Three Pines. She’s not exactly a social person; in fact, she can be quite acerbic. But she knows that, as a poet, she has to get the word out about her work. So, in A Fatal Grace (AKA Dead Cold), she goes to a Montréal bookshop to do a reading and some networking. The event isn’t the main focus of the novel, but it does add to the plot, and it shows how difficult it can be for people to network and get others to pay attention. Trust me. It is. But networking has to be done. If you’re a writer, how do you network?

ps. The ‘photo is of a custom-printed tote that I use. It’s got the same logo as my business card, as you see. It’s one of the hopefully-not-annoying ways I have to ‘sell myself’ when the opportunity arises.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Tom Petty’s Into the Great Wide Open.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alison Gordon, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Harlan Coben, Louise Penny, Martin Edwards, Patricia Highsmith, Riley Adams

Politics – the Art of the Possible*

Whenever groups of people work together, there’s the issue of what I’ll call politics (I don’t mean government politics here. That’s the subject for another post at some point). Who’s in charge? Who gets ahead? Who’s allied with whom? Most people say that they get sick of office politics. On the other hand, it’s wise to be able to get along with colleagues. It’s a delicate balance to strike.

Some people, though, learn to be masters of workplace politics. They’re the ones who move along quickly in their careers. We may resent them, and even decide not to trust them. But it’s hard not to notice their ability to manage their careers. And we certainly see those characters in crime fiction.

For example, James Ellroy’s LA Confidential introduces readers to Los Angeles police detective Edmund ‘Ed’ Exley. He is the son of the much-revered Preston Exley, whose dream it is for his son to get to the top of the LAPD. He gives Ed all sorts of advice, pulls the right proverbial strings, and so on. And Ed certainly learns to play the ‘politics game.’ The real action in the story begins on Christmas Day, 1951, when seven civilians are brutally attacked by the police. Two years later, there’s another tragedy. This time, it’s a late-night shooting at the Nite Owl Diner. Exley is involved in both of these situations, and he uses his political skills (and the prodding from his father) to manipulate matters so that he can move ahead in his career.

Fans of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels will know that Bosch runs up against Irvin Irving more than once in his career. Irving is a very politically astute member of the LAPD, who’s quite skilled at protecting himself and those in high positions on the force. He isn’t above squashing investigations if they might impact his image, or the images of those above him in the pecking order. And, more than once, he works to impede investigations that Bosch is conducting. As any Bosch fan can tell you, Harry Bosch follows the trail wherever it leads, and that doesn’t always sit well with Irving’s political ambitions. The two butt heads more than once in the course of the series.

Martin Edwards’ Lake District mysteries feature Hannah Scarlett, who heads up the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team. Her Assistant Chief Constable (ACC), Lauren Self, is extremely politically conscious and astute. She takes every opportunity she can to advance her career; and, while she’s not deliberately malicious, she has no intentions of letting anything get in the way of her success. On the one hand, Scarlett has much less interest in ‘office politics.’ She wants to get the job done. Sometimes that putts her at odds with her boss. On the other hand, she can’t help but notice, and, in a way, respect the way Self manages the political realities of the job.

Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti works at the Venice questura. He wants to see crimes solved, and justice done. But he’s often hampered by his boss, vice-questore Giuseppe Patta. Patta’s main focus is his own career. So, he toadies to those with money and power. If an investigation happens to lead to someone with influence, or someone who could help Patta’s career, he’s not above squashing the investigation. He’s been known to remove Brunetti from cases, too. Fortunately, Patta’s assistant, Signorina Elettra Zorzi, likes Brunetti and generally supports what he’s doing. She’s quite good at manipulating her boss, too, so she and Brunetti find ways to get things done.

It’s not just police forces where we see these politically astute characters. Many other groups and businesses include them. For example, in Robert Rotenberg’s Old City Hall, we are introduced to Albert Fernandez. He’s a Crown Prosecutor who lives and works in Toronto. Frenandez wants to move ahead in his career, and he does a lot to make that happen. He’s the first in the office in the morning, and the last to leave. He calculates the political risks of what he does, who he spends time with, and so on. It’s not that he’s soulless, but he’s intent on career success, and he has a sense of what that takes. He gets a chance at a real ‘feather in the cap’ when famous broadcaster Kevin Brace is arrested for killing his common-law wife, Katherine Thorn. It ought to be an easy case. Brace told a witness that he killed her. And he hasn’t said anything since to defend himself (actually, he hasn’t spoken since. He communicates with his own lawyer, Nancy Parish via handwritten notes). Fernandez isn’t going to find this case as easy a win as he thinks, though. Parish is no slouch, and there’s more to this case than it seems on the surface.

And then there’s Megan Abbott’s Dare Me. That novel takes place mostly within the context of a high school cheerleading team. Addy Hanlon and Beth Cassidy are members of their high school’s cheerleading squad, and undisputed ‘queen bees’ of their school’s social order. They know all about the politics of ‘making it’ in high school, and they’ve done well. Beth, in particular, is at the top of the high school social ladder. Then, Collette French is hired to coach the cheerleading squad. Right from the beginning, French changes the social order. The cheerleading squad becomes an elite social group, and Addy is welcomed into the ‘inner circle.’ Beth, though, is not. Then, there’s a suicide (or was it?). It’s interesting to see how the politics of high school, and those who play that game well, are important in this novel.

There are plenty of other fictional examples of people who are astute at ‘office politics.’ Such characters have important social survival skills; even as we may resent them, it’s hard to deny their ability to negotiate some dangerous waters, as the saying goes. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s The Art of the Possible.

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Filed under Donna Leon, James Ellroy, Martin Edwards, Megan Abbott, Michael Connelly, Robert Rotenberg

To the Backroom, the Alley, or the Trusty Woods*

In Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings are discussing what they would want for ‘the perfect crime.’ Poirot asks:
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‘‘If you could order a crime as one orders a dinner, what would you choose.’’
 
He and Hastings discuss the sort of crime (murder, of course!). Then, Hastings says,
 

‘‘Scene of the crime – well, what’s wrong with the good old library? Nothing like it for atmosphere.’’ 
 

Hastings has a point. Libraries can be very atmospheric places for scenes of crime or for discovering a body. And Christie uses the library to that effect, too, right, fans of The Body in the Library? When Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife, Dolly, learn that the body of a young woman has been found in their library, they’re drawn into a strange case of multiple murder.

Of course, the library is by no means the only atmospheric place for a murder scene, or for leaving a body. The place the author chooses depends a lot on the story, the characters, and so on. And that place can add quite a lot of atmosphere, even creepiness, to a story.

For instance, if you’ve ever walked down a street at night, and happened to peek down an alley, you know how eerie that sort of place can be. And, in Martin Edwards’ All the Lonely People, that’s where the body of Liverpool attorney Harry Devlin’s ex-wife, Liz, is found. A few days before her death, she unexpectedly visits Devlin, and he hopes this means she might want to reconcile with him. That’s not her purpose, though. She says that she’s escaping her current lover, Mick Coghlin, and needs a place to stay for a few days. Devlin agrees, but the next night, she is stabbed. Devlin knows he isn’t guilty, but of course, he’s an obvious ‘person of interest.’ Along with wanting to clear his name, he wants to find out who killed Liz. So, he starts to ask questions. He finds that Liz’ life was a lot more complicated than he’d thought, and there are several possible suspects for her murder. There are plenty of other novels, too, in which bodies are found in alleys behind buildings, or between two buildings.

Woods can also be eerie, atmospheric places to find a body. For instance, in Martha Grimes’ The Anodyne Necklace, the body of Dora Binns is found in a wood near the village of Littlebourne. Inspector Richard Jury has to cancel his holiday plans and travel to Littlebourne to investigate. He and his friend, Melrose Plant, discover that the victim’s death is connected to a robbery, some missing jewels, and an attack on another resident of LIttlebourne. Fans of Ruth Rendell’s Simisola will know that the body of a young woman is found in wood near the town of Kingsmarkham. At first, Inspector Reg Wexford thinks it’s the body of Melanie Akande, who’s been missing for several days. It’s a different young woman, though, so now, Wexford and his team have two major cases on their hands.

Moors are also wild, often desolate places that can be very atmospheric places for murders and bodies. And Belinda Bauer makes use of that setting in Blacklands. That’s the story of twelve-year-old Steven Lamb, who lives with his working-class family in the Exmoor town of Shipcott. The family is haunted by the nineteen-year-old disappearance of Steven’s uncle, Billy Peters. It was always suspected that he was abducted and killed by a man named Arnold Avery, who’s currently in prison for other child murders. Steven has been searching for Billy’s body on the moor, hoping that finding it will help his family. But he has no idea exactly where the body is. Then, he gets the idea of contacting Avery to find out from him where Uncle Billy’s body is. He takes the chance and writes, and he and Avery start a correspondence that turns into a very dangerous game of cat-and-mouse.

Minette Walters’ The Ice House makes use of another very atmospheric sort of place for a body. In the novel, Chief Inspector George Walsh is assigned an eerie case. A gardener has discovered the decomposed body of a man in the ice house of remote Streech Grange. That’s the property of Phoebe Maybury, who lives there with two friends, Anne Cattrell and Diana Goode. Ten years ago, Phoebe’s husband, David, went missing, and never returned. Walsh investigated at the time, but there were no clues as to where the man might have gone. Now, it appears Maybury’s body might have been found. But there’s a question as to whether the body is Maybury’s. If it is, then one of the three women living at Streech Grange is very possibly guilty of murdering him. If it’s not, then who is the man? And is one of the women guilty?

There are plenty of other atmospheric, even creepy, places authors use as murder scenes or as places to ‘dump’ a body. And when those places are chosen well, they can add quite a lot of tension to a story. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Seger’s Night Moves.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Belinda Bauer, Martha Grimes, Martin Edwards, Minette Walters, Ruth Rendell