"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Ice House

Title: The Ice House
Author: Minette Walters

The first of her books, this is as accomplished as her later ones which I read first. When a badly decomposed body is discovered in the little known ice house on the country estate, old resentments and suspicions are unleashed. Phoebe, who lives in seclusion with her friends Diana and Anne, had to endure harassment from the police and townsfolk ten years earlier when her husband, David, disappeared and the policeman in charge of the case thought she'd murdered him. Over the ensuing years, they've had to deal with rumors that they were lesbians and witches, as well. Now that policeman, Chief Inspector Walsh, is convinced they have David Maybury's body. But Det. Sgt. Andy McLoughlin has his doubts, and not just because he's drawn to the engimatic, independent Anne. As it turns out, there is more than one mystery in this tale and Andy is in danger of becoming too involved with the women who are, essentially suspects. But who is more biased in his thinking? Andy, who is slowly coming to see the women as innocent victims of rumor and innuendo? Or Walsh, who is convinced Phoebe murdered her husband and would like nothing more than to finally prove it, even if the coroner can't identify the body with any certainty?

There is a lot of gray in this book, coincidences and things left unsaid until Walters wants the reader to know something, a style that also marked the other of her books I've read. Rather than feel manipulated, though I do sometimes get frustrated, this serves to keep me reading, to want to know just what was seen, heard, found. Her books are immensely readable, even if a few of the Britishisms sent me scurrying to an online dictionary.

But what keeps me enthralled is not the level of whodunit, though she's good at packing in surprises, but the depths of her characters. Their personalities, the things they hide from themselves and others, the assumptions they make about others based on their own biases move the story forward and make for compelling reading.

I've been reading a lot on litblogs and writer blogs lately about male vs female writers and I have to admit the authors I usually go back to are men. Barry Eisler. Michael Marshall (Smith). Bill Pronzini. Most of the science fiction writers I read. Yet, when I choose books based on reviews, I don't pay attention to the sex of the author. I pay attention to the plot, the overall review. I skim inside books by authors unknown to me to see if the style grabs me. That I end up reading more books by men than women has no hidden meaning. I've read some wonderful books by women writers in recent years and would love to read more by them. I even have a bunch waiting for me. Minette Walters is one who has jumped to the fore, though, because she knows her craft. She pulls no punches and her understanding of human nature infuses her writing. She builds suspense as well as anyone, and appeals directly to a reader's curiosity. And I'm never left feeling even a bit disappointed by anything, which I can't say for every mystery I read.

Gee, can you tell I like her books? :)