Fox Evil

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the quiet English village of Shenstead, evil is afoot. Ailsa Lockyer-Fox, the matriarch of the village’s wealthiest family, has died mysteriously, and although the coroner has found no hint of murder, the dead woman’s husband, Colonel James Lockyer-Fox, is being tormented by his neighbors. Anonymous callers threaten him and hang up; someone is mutilating foxes and leaving them to die on his lawn. Tension is simmering between fox hunters and animal lovers, and a small band of vagabonds is squatting in the woods, hoping to establish a legal claim to the land.

At the center of all of the conflicts is Fox Evil, a man with a razor in one pocket and a hammer in the other. Women find Fox Evil equally attractive and frightening, and he is skilled at pinpointing weaknesses and using them to dominate his victims.

A surprising number of Shenstead’s inhabitants have disabling psychological weaknesses, including the depressed Colonel Lockyer- Fox, his drug-addicted daughter and compulsive gambler son, the co-dependent mother Vixen, the demented housekeeper Vera, and the impressionable gossipy neighbor Prue. Wolfie, the emotionally damaged ten-year-old boy in Fox Evil’s care, seems poised on the brink, and the sharpest psychological tension arises from those scenes depicting Fox’s treatment of the boy. Wolfie has been failed by every adult he has trusted, and Fox’s willful attempts to squash Wolfie’s courage and inner strength show the depths of his cruelty.

Minette Walters cleverly works with the title’s “fox,” weaving together several plots that play on the word. In tying them all together at the end, however, she pulls out characters and bits of background that seem to come from nowhere. By the last page, readers will feel satisfied that all ends happily for the right people, but will be unable to summarize how or why it happened.