If you are already a fan of the dark and twisted books of Minette Walters, then there’s nothing more I need to tell you than that she has a new book, The Cellar out. You’ll run to take it out or put it on hold because you won’t be able to wait to read her latest.
However, if you are not a fan of Minette Walters — if, by some chance, you’ve never heard of her — then allow me to introduce you to one of my favorite writers of dark mysteries, in the hopes that you can get to know her fascinating and twisted books.
Let’s start with her newest book, The Cellar, which is about a young woman, Muna, who is 14 and has been held as a virtual slave by the Songoli family, a group of African immigrants in London. She’s been kept in the basement, not allowed to read or write, forced to work for the family, forced to take emotional, physical and even sexual abuse. Then one day the son of the family goes missing and the police get involved looking for him. Now the family has to pretend that Muna is a member of the family and not the victim of a crime, so they give her a real bedroom, decent clothes, and real food. They talk to her in Hausa, their (and her) native language, and assume she doesn’t understand or speak English. They are wrong. They have underestimated Muna, and she is going to take her revenge on all of them.
Her earlier books are works of psychological suspense that are compulsive page-turners, and it’s only at the very end (if then) that the final twist is turned and you understand what was really going on. If you liked all the plot twists of Gone Girl, you’re going to love Minette Walters.
The Sculptress, for instance, starts with a young woman who’s a nonfiction writer. After the death of her child, she’s been blocked, and her publisher pushes her to go and write a book about Olive Martin, a grotesquely obese woman who was found cradling the dead and mutilated bodies of her mother and younger sister, who confessed to the murders and was promptly convicted and sent to jail for the crimes. As the writer starts investigating, though, she begins to discover the differences between the forensic evidence of the murders and the details of Olive’s confession, and it dawns on her that there may have been a terrible miscarriage of justice. Or was there?
Another of her books which I enjoyed was The Scold’s Bridle, and again, it’s a case of a gruesome murder and a question of what really happened. Mathilda Gillespie, a snobbish woman with a tongue like an adder, is found dead in her bath, a bloody knife close to the bath and a scold’s bridle, an instrument of torture used for women accused of nagging too much, on her head. Was this a bizarre form of suicide or was she murdered? Sarah Blakeney, the local doctor and one of the few people who actually liked Mathilda, starts looking into the death, her interest turning more personal when she discovers that she stands to inherit Mathilda’s fortune. The plot twists and turns and by the end you have a completely different view of Mathilda than you did at the beginning.
My personal favorite of her books, though, is The Shape of Snakes. Annie, a black woman, dies under suspicious circumstances in the working class English neighborhood in which she’d lived. She had enemies aplenty, but the authorities eagerly dismiss the case as an accidental death, despite the claims of the woman who found the body. That woman, our protagonist, nearly has a breakdown over her treatment and the wrongness of the police investigation, and she and her husband leave the country for twenty years. But she’s never forgotten, and when she comes back to the neighborhood twenty years later, she’s dogged and determined to discover what really happened to Annie. The casual racism of the police who “investigated” the case, and the cruelty of some of the people in the neighborhood is hard to take, but when the truth is revealed, the climax is really satisfying, as is the final revelation of why the protagonist took this so seriously she was willing to fight this hard for someone she barely knew.
So if you have a taste for dark and twisting mysteries that keep you up at night because you can’t bear not to finish them now, give Minette Walters a try. She has many books, and you don’t have to read them in any particular order. If you can’t get your hands on her newest, The Cellar, immediately, by all means try one of her other books and see if you’re not hooked as well.
NOTE: Since posting this review, I’ve had a chance to read The Cellar, and it is every bit as dark and disturbing as I’d feared (or hoped) it would be. If you’re interested in reading a more in-depth review, please check out my Goodreads review here.