Minette Walters’s psychological suspense and crime fiction is character driven. In each case, a body is discovered in the first pages of the novel, and the rest of the novel is spent uncovering the background and circumstances of the murder. The character of the victim is explored along with the character of the suspects and investigators. Motivation, why the murder was committed, is as important as who did it. A long list of possible suspects is revealed through the twists, turns, and revelations of the plot. Walters stated in an interview that she does not necessarily know the identity of the murderer when she begins writing the novel; a number of characters have a motive for the crime. One of the questions Walters explores is why one character was driven to murder as a solution, while other equally motivated characters did not resort to murder.
Other characteristics of a Walters mystery include gruesome, graphic descriptions of the crime scene; themes of prejudice, bigotry, and giving the victim a voice; a love element that explores the fragility of relationships, the struggle for love, and the hard work involved in maintaining a stable relationship; the enclosed and claustrophobic nature of life in the family, the village, or neighborhood, where all involved, not only the victim, may be traumatized by a crime; and the dark side of human nature, the idea that the capability for murder may rest within anyone. Walters also explores form in the crime novel. In addition to traditional narrative, Walters involves the reader in the investigation by including maps, letters, e-mails, records of police interviews, newspaper clippings, and photos without narrative commentary, allowing the reader to interpret the evidence along with the investigator.
The Ice House
Walters’s first novel, The Ice House, has elements of the gothic in its setting, a manor house called Streech Grange. The Grange is owned by Phoebe Maybury, who lives there in isolation with two eccentric female companions. The novel opens with three newspaper clippings referring to the unsolved disappearance of David Maybury ten years earlier. Although a body was never found, the local villagers as well as Detective Chief Inspector George Walsh believe that Phoebe killed her husband. The opening scenes of the narrative focus on a graphic description of a decomposed body found in the cryptlike ice house on the property. The immediate assumption is that the body in the ice house is the missing David Maybury, but soon the investigation is complicated by the revelation of another missing person, a man whose business failure has cost Phoebe’s friend Diana Goode a small fortune. As more possible motivations for murder are revealed, it becomes essential to determine the identity of the body in the ice house. Walsh’s determination to prove that Phoebe is guilty of her husband’s murder hinders the investigation from the start, so it falls to the moody misogynist Detective Sergeant McLoughlin to probe other possibilities. The idea that police investigations may be flawed runs through several of Walters’s books. Two stories unfold simultaneously: the story of what really happened ten years earlier, and the story of the police investigation in the present time.
The claustrophobic, enclosed nature of village life is another theme that first appears in The Ice House and reappears in later Walters novels. The locals not only assume that Phoebe killed her husband, generally acknowledged to be a cruel and violent man, but also suspect the three women of being lesbians or witches. Ultimately the identity of the body is revealed, as is the solution to the disappearance of Maybury. The novel ends with the beginning of a love affair between the gruff McLoughlin and...
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