17 February 2009

Book Review: The Sculptress by Minette Walters

What’s in a Name? 2 Challenge #2

The Sculptress Olive Martin is known as “the sculptress” for the way in which she butchered her mother and sister and arranged the pieces on the kitchen floor, before calling the police and confessing. Rosalind Leigh has no desire to write about Olive - or, indeed, anything else - but her agent has delivered her an ultimatum. Write the book, or her publisher will drop her. Left with little choice, Roz goes to interview Olive, expecting a monster but finding instead an intelligent, likeable - and clearly sane - woman. Indeed, five psychiatrists have proclaimed her sane, though many who saw her handiwork deemed her a psychopath. As Roz digs deeper into the case’s big unanswered question - why? - cracks begin to appear in the accepted version of events.

Why did Olive’s statement omit so much of what was shown by the forensic evidence? If she was planning to go to London that day, why was she wearing old clothes? Are her claims of having a secret lover the truth? Perhaps more importantly, is writing the book helping Roz move on from the event that almost destroyed her life, or leading her into more trouble? Former detective Hal Hawksley might make her go weak at the knees, but a restaurateur who hides from customers and regularly gets beaten to a pulp is more than a little shady. The more Roz learns, the more convinced she is that he and Olive are both innocent of all wrongdoing - but can she save either of them?

Wow. The Sculptress is one of those books that grabs hold of you at the beginning and doesn’t let go until it’s dragged you through to the end. It’s a good end, too; one to create a little chill and leave you wondering (in a good, speculative way, rather than a loose-ends-not-tied-up way). Even before there’s any doubt as to Olive’s guilt there’s mystery; in the gulf between Olive’s monstrous reputation and appearance and her well-spoken, friendly manner, and in the prison officer’s warning that Roz can’t trust a word that Olive says. Roz’s investigation is very well plotted, with little details here and there adding up and threatening to make the entire case crumble. Likewise the nature of Roz’s recent trauma is carefully revealed by degrees, going a long way to explaining why she’s so prickly.

The pace never flags, but at times I found the writing style concerned too much with momentum and too little with detail. Even as I was speeding through and loving the plot, a back corner of my mind kept struggling to pin down a firm image of certain people and places. And while I loved the plot, the characters were less appealing. They were certainly sympathetic, I really hoped things would work out for them (and I loved Roz during the hatpin scene), but I never truly warmed to them. With the exception of Sister Bridget, there wasn’t one I’d care to meet. This suited the kind of story being told - bitter, real, and with happy endings not guaranteed - but I do prefer to spend my time with fictional people I truly like.

Rating: A-

1 comment:

Nicola said...

Oh boy, this sounds really good! I've been hearing a lot about Minette Walters recently, though I've never read her. I think it's about time I try one of her books.

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