Monday, November 29, 2010

Mystery Monday: Minette Walters

--by Hanje Richards

Because I am a huge fan of mysteries, "Mystery Monday" was born. Because I like to read mysteries in order, I'm going to list and talk about them in chronological, rather than alphabetical, order.

If an author has written more than one series (and many authors have), I'll talk about different series in different posts to keep things as clear as possible. For those interested in reading some of the featured titles, I've noted at the end of each book's summary whether it's available at the Copper Queen Library (CQL) or at another library in Cochise County through Interlibrary Loan (ILL).

Minette Walters (born September 26, 1949) is an English crime writer. Walters’ themes include isolation, family dysfunction, rejection, marginalization, justice, and revenge. Her novels are often set against real backgrounds and real events to draw her readers into the “reality” of what she is writing about. With no series character tying her to particular people, places, or times, she moves freely around settings – a sink estate, a Dorset village, a suburb of London – although every setting is "claustrophobic" to encourage the characters "to turn on each other."

Walters describes herself as an exploratory writer who never uses a plot scheme, begins with simple premises, has no idea "whodunit" until half-way through a story, but who remains excited about each novel because she, along with her reader, wants to know what happens next.

Scold’s Bridle (1994) - Dr. Sarah Blakeney is one of very few mourners when her grumpy old patient, Mathilda Gillespie, dies at home in the bathtub, apparently of suicide. The old woman has taken barbiturates, slit her wrists, and bound her head in a rusted contraption called a scold's bridle, a cage with tongue clamps used to torture women in the Middle Ages. The police start to suspect homicide right around the time they learn that Sarah has been generously included in the dead woman's will. When she becomes the prime suspect in the murder, it's up to Sarah to delve into the bizarre details of Mathilda's private life, a history of greed, abuse, and depravity, and uncover the real killer. (available at CQL)

Dark Room (1996) - In this acclaimed psychological mystery, Jinx Kingsley, a prominent photographer and millionaire’s daughter, wakes up in an exclusive hospital suffering from amnesia. Not only can she not remember the car accident that caused her memory loss, but she doesn’t remember that her impending wedding has been called off or that her former fiancé and his girlfriend have been brutally murdered in the same way her first husband had been ten years before. Now, she must try to piece together her memories in order to determine her innocence. With deft psychological explorations and shocking twists, Walters brings the story to an awe-inspiring conclusion. (available at CQL)

The Echo (1997) - In this hypnotic novel of psychological suspense, a homeless man is found starved to death in the garage of a ritzy London home. The police chalk it up to an unfortunate accident, but a journalist, Michael Deacon, is intrigued. Amanda Powell, a socialite whose wealthy husband vanished five years ago after being accused of embezzlement, is just as interested as Michael in finding out who died in her garage. They have no idea that this simple story will unveil a web of deceit that is an appalling as the people behind it. (available at CQL)

The Breaker (1998) - The nude body of a 31-year-old woman washes up in a secluded cove on the Dorset coast; at the same time, her 3-year-old daughter is found wandering alone in the streets of a nearby town. The woman, Kate Sumner, was raped and choked before being thrown into the water, and traces of Rohypnol, the so-called date-rape drug, are found in her bloodstream. There are just three suspects in the crime: Kate's husband, William Sumner, a tortured and sexually frustrated man; a handsome, charming but also very disturbed young actor named Steven Harding; and Tony Bridges, a teacher whose friendship with Harding is complicated by jealousy and anger. (available at CQL)

The Shape of Snakes (2001) – November, 1978. The winter of discontent. Britain is on strike. The dead lie unburied, garbage piles in the streets – and somewhere in West London, a black woman dies in a rain-filled gutter. Known as "Mad Annie," she was despised by her neighbors.
Her passing would have gone unmourned and unnoticed but for the young woman who finds her and who believes – apparently against reason – that Annie was murdered.

But whatever the truth about Annie – whether she was as mad as her neighbors claimed, whether she lived in squalor as the police said, whether she cruelly mistreated the cats found starving in her house – something passed between her and Mrs. Ranelagh in the moment of death that binds this one woman to her cause for the next twenty years.But why is Mrs. Ranelagh so convinced it was murder, when, by her own account, Annie died without speaking? Why does the subject make her husband so angry that he refuses to talk about what happened that night? And why would any woman spend twenty painstaking years uncovering the truth – unless her reasons are personal? (available through ILL)

Acid Row (2002) - Acid Row. The name the beleaguered inhabitants give to their 'sink' estate. A no-man's land of single mothers and fatherless children – where angry, alienated youth control the streets. Into this battleground comes Sophie Morrison, a young doctor visiting a patient in Acid Row. Little does she know that she is entering the home of a known pedophile... and with reports circulating that a tormented child called Amy has disappeared, the vigilantes are out in force. Soon Sophie is trapped at the center of a terrifying siege, with a man she has come to despise. Whipped to a frenzy by unsubstaniated rumor, the mob unleashes its hatred. Against authority... against the Law... against the "pervert." "Protecting Amy" becomes the catch-all defense for the terrible events that follow. And if murder is part of it, then so be it... But, is Amy really missing? (available at CQL)

Fox Evil (2003) - When elderly Ailsa Lockyer-Fox is found dead in her garden, dressed only in night clothes and with blood stains on the ground near her body, the finger of suspicion points at her wealthy, landowning husband, Colonel James Lockyer-Fox. A coroner's inquest gives a verdict of "natural causes," but the gossip surrounding him refuses to go away.
Why? Because he's guilty? Or because resentful women in the isolated Dorset village where he lives rule the roost? Shenstead is a place of too few people and too many secrets. Why have James and Ailsa cut their children out of their wills? What happened in the past to create such animosity within the family? And why is James so desperate to find his illegitimate grandchild? Friendless and alone, his reclusive behavior begins to alarm his London-based solicitor, Mark Ankerton, whose concern deepens when he discovers that James has become the victim of a relentless campaign which accuses him of far worse than the death of his wife. Allegations which he refuses to challenge... Why? Because they're a motive for murder? (available at CQL)

Disordered Minds (2005) - In 1970, 20-year-old Howard Stamp is convicted of brutally killing his 57-year-old grandmother with a carving knife; three years later, he commits suicide in prison. In 2002, London anthropologist Jonathan Hughes includes the Stamp case in his book, Disordered Minds, which examines infamous miscarriages of justice. The mentally slow Stamp may have been coerced into confessing to the murder. George (Georgina) Gardener, an elderly attorney living in Stamp's hometown of Bournemouth, has come to believe in Stamp's innocence herself and asks Jonathan for help in clearing the young man's name. The two get off to a rocky start, but they form an uneasy alliance that gradually grows into a deep friendship. (available at CQL)

The Devil’s Feather (2006) - In 2002, five women are discovered barbarously murdered in Sierra Leone. Reuters Africa correspondent Connie Burns suspects a British mercenary: a man who seems to turn up in every war-torn corner of Africa, whose reputation for violence and brutality is well-founded and widely known. Connie’s suspicions that he’s using the chaos of war to act out sadistic, misogynistic fantasies fall on deaf ears – but she’s determined to expose him and his secret.Connie encounters the man again in Baghdad, but almost immediately she’s taken hostage. Released after three desperate days, terrified and traumatized by the experience – fearing that she will never again be the person she once was – Connie retreats to England. She is bent on protecting herself by withholding information about her abduction. But secluded in a remote rented house – where the jealously guarded history of her landlady’s family seems to mirror her own fears – she knows that it is only a matter of time before her nightmares become real. (available through ILL)

The Chameleon’s Shadow (2008) - Somewhere in the endless, deadly desert between Basra and Baghdad, Lieutenant Charles Acland's convoy was attacked. Recovering in the hospital, Charles is crippled by migraines and suspicious of his doctors. He grows uncharacteristically aggressive, particularly against women. Rejecting cosmetic surgery, he moves to London. There he sinks into a quagmire of guilt and paranoia – until an outburst of irrational, vicious anger brings him to the attention of the local police, who are investigating three recent murders. Now under suspicion, Charles is forced to confront his issues before it's too late, but the shadowy forces working against him – or in him – could be more than he can overcome. (available through ILL)