Walters, Minette 1949-
Walters, Minette 1949-
Born September 26, 1949, in Bishop's Stortford, England; daughter of Samuel (an army captain) and Colleen (an artist) Jebb; married Alexander Walters (a company director), August 19, 1978; children: Roland, Philip. Education: Attended Godolphin School and Durham University. Politics: "Centre." Religion: Atheist. Hobbies and other interests: People, talking, reading, movies, art, politics, family, dogs, friends, good food, wine, volunteer work in Israel.
Home—Dorset, England. Agent—Gregory and Company Authors, 3 Barb Mews, London W6 7PA, England.
Writer. Has worked as an editor in London, England; ran for local office, 1987.
British Crime Writers' Association.
John Creasey Award for Best First Crime Novel, British Crime Writers' Association, 1992, for The Ice House; Macavity Award, 1993, and Edgar Allan Poe Award, 1994, both for The Sculptress; Gold Dagger Award, British Crime Writers' Association, 1994, for The Scold's Bridle; Pelle Rosencrantz Prize (Denmark), 2000, for The Shape of Snakes; Gold Dagger Award, British Crime Writers' Association, 2003, for Fox Evil; honorary doctorate, Bournemourth University, 2005; Quick Reads Learners' Favorites Award, 2006, for Chickenfeed; honorary Doctorate, Southampton Solent University, 2006.
The Ice House, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.
The Sculptress, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1993.
The Scold's Bridle, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1994.
The Dark Room, Putnam (New York, NY), 1995.
The Echo, Putnam (New York, NY), 1997.
The Breaker, Macmillan (London, England), 1998, Putnam's Sons (New York, NY), 1999.
The Shape of Snakes, Putnam's Sons (New York, NY), 2001.
Acid Row, Macmillan (London, England), 2001.
Disordered Minds, Macmillan (London, England), 2003.
Fox Evil, Putnam's Sons (New York, NY), 2003.
The Tinder Box (novella), Macmillan (London, England), 2004.
Chickenfeed (novella), Macmillan (London, England), 2006.
The Devil's Feather, Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.
The Sculptress and The Ice House were adapted as television movies for BBC-TV; The Sculptress aired on PBS-TV's Mystery series in 1997.
British crime novelist Minette Walters experienced critical and commercial success from the start of her writing career. Her debut, The Ice House, won her the coveted John Creasey Award for Best First Crime Novel from the British Crime Writers' Association. The plot of the 1992 work centers around a decayed corpse discovered in the ice house of an old English mansion. Phoebe Maybury, the woman who lives in the mansion, was once suspected of involvement in the mysterious disappearance of her loathsome husband, but police had been unable to substantiate the innuendo. Now the mysterious body—which may or may not be that of the absent spouse—reignites questions about Phoebe. She and her two female housemates—strong-willed, sharp-tongued women—tangle with the inspector assigned to the case and fend off accusations of murder, lesbianism, and even witchcraft.
Intimations of witchcraft surface again in Walters's second novel, The Sculptress. The title refers to an incarcerated woman, the three hundred pound Olive Martin, who is sentenced to life in prison for killing her mother and sister. To pass the time, Olive sculpts figures, but then dismembers her artistic achievements. As the novel opens, journalist Roz Leigh is in the process of interviewing Martin for a book when she begins to realize that there was perhaps more to the case than was presented in court. At the same time, Leigh attempts to confront the demons that are interfering with her own life, especially the death of her child and an acrimonious divorce. The Sculptress won Walters the 1994 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best mystery novel and was adapted and broadcast on public television in England and the United States.
Walters's next effort, The Scold's Bridle, revolves around the author's exploration of a highly dysfunctional family. The title refers to a medieval torture device, an example of which is discovered covering the face of the wealthy, venomous, and very dead Mathilda Gillespie. The body of the elderly woman has been found in a bathtub, her wrists slit and alcohol and barbiturates in her bloodstream. Gillespie, it turns out, has left her fortune to her physician, Sarah Blakeney, who naturally becomes a murder suspect. Suspicion also falls, however, on Gillespie's daughter, Joanna, who is perhaps involved with Blakeney's estranged husband, and Joanna's granddaughter, Ruth.
Meanwhile, a young man named Dave, with whom Ruth has been involved, begins to play an increasingly decisive role in the plot. The evil nature of this character prompted critic Patrick McGrath to call Dave "a horrifying piece of contemporary social reality" in his review of The Scold's Bridle for the New York Times Book Review. McGrath found Walters's characters "relentlessly two-dimensional," but saw the novel as a departure from the traditional English crime novel, wherein virtuous intellectualism triumphs over evil aberration. "This is a novel shot through with pessimism about society's inability to do anything about the abuse of the weak," McGrath concluded. Washington Post Book World writer Pat Dowell commented favorably on Walters's ability as a writer, comparing her with two giants in the mystery genre: P.D. James and Ruth Rendell. In The Scold's Bridle, Dowell declared: "Walters fearlessly flirts with gothic menace and intricacy as she draws all the loose threads together in this full-bodied plot." The Scold's Bridle earned its author the British Crime Writers' Association's Gold Dagger Award.
In The Dark Room Walters again takes on a psychologically disturbed family in the tale of Jinx Kingsley, an heiress who has survived what appears to be a suicide attempt. Evidently, Jinx's fiancé has left her for her best friend, and the pair are later found murdered. Jinx becomes a suspect and embarks upon a quest to uncover some submerged parts of her past. The plot grows more complicated when she discovers secrets about her father and realizes her stepfamily is not above suspicion. New Statesman & Society critic Mary Scott described the story as "a richly original premise and one that Minette Walters exploits to full dramatic effect…. The quest for truth is punctuated by touches of humanity that lift this novel way above others of its genre."
Walters continues her crime novels with The Echo, a work that garnered her further comparison to fellow female suspense writer Ruth Rendell. When a street dweller named Billy Blake is discovered dead, magazine writer Michael Deacon sets out to determine if the deceased was actually merchant banker James Streeter, who had disappeared nearly a decade before along with ten million dollars. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly, comparing Walters to Rendell, remarked that "she's a superior storyteller who plumbs psychological depths with an acuity that here, as before, will have readers enthralled." Booklist critic Emily Melton found the book to be "as baffling and unsettling as wandering through an elaborate maze," but praised Walters's use of "rich emotion, psychological intrigue, and deliciously tantalizing mystery."
In The Breaker local Dorset constable Nick Ingram finds himself investigating the death of a woman who was brutally raped and strangled before she drowned, leav- ing behind a toddler who is found wandering alone in a nearby town. "This is psychological suspense at its best, engendered in a novel whose sinuous plot and enigmatic characters will captivate readers as surely as newfound love," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. David Pitt commented in Booklist that Walters "just keeps getting better," and went on to note that her characters are "real people, not crime-novel stock figures." People contributor Pam Lambert labeled Walters's effort a "tantalizing psychological thriller."
Walters's next effort, The Shape of Snakes, was awarded the Pelle Rosencrantz Prize from Denmark in 2000. The book concerns the murder of a black woman, Annie Butts, who had long been abused by her neighbors because of her Tourette's symptoms. At the heart of the story is more than just the investigation, but the question of whether a crime against a black individual in a white community can ever be sufficiently investigated. Nicola Upson remarked in New Statesman: "Walters is tackling serious social questions." Upson went on to express her mixed feelings regarding the results, however, calling the book "an accomplished insight into the failings of British justice, but one that fails to move on a deeper level." Booklist writer Joanne Wilkinson found many of the themes Walters addresses to make for an uncomfortable read, yet admitted that "it is almost impossible to put down."
Acid Row gets its title from the name of a rundown, crime-infested area. Gangs are in charge of the neighborhood, and the homes are populated by the poor and the weak, including single mothers, the elderly, and the unemployed. When a ten year old child disappears shortly after a registered pedophile has relocated to the area, riots are the result. Danielle Grossman, writing for Student BMJ, felt that character development falls by the wayside in favor of plot once the riots begin in earnest, but overall the critic found the book to be "a fine page turner; a novel filled to the brim with suspense and anticipation." Amanda Craig noted in a review for New Statesman: "By weaving a suspenseful tale of courage and terror around this grim territory, Walters addresses the ills of modern Britain as few literary novelists dare to do, afflicting the comfortable, if not comforting the afflicted."
In Disordered Minds Howard Stamp is a mentally handicapped inmate who commits suicide. Years after he supposedly murdered his aunt, however, there is evidence that Howard was not actually the responsible party. George Gardener, a local councilor, wishes to exonerate Howard, and so he enlists the assistance of social anthropologist Jonathan Hughes. Library Journal reviewer Michele Leber called the book "a masterly tale of psychological suspense." Writing for the Spectator, Harriet Waugh remarked that the characters "seriously engage your interest since what they are, in the wide spectrum of good and evil, is as much at the heart of the mystery as the gradually accumulating evidence." Waugh went on to conclude that the book is "a very enjoyable, sophisticated affair."
Walters's The Devil's Feather follows the adventures of war correspondent Connie Burns, who takes it upon herself to investigate a British mercenary's connection to a string of murders. During the investigation, however, Connie is kidnapped and held hostage for three days; she manages to escape and flees to Dorset in an attempt to hide. Devon Thomas noted in Library Journal that the author "successfully keeps the suspense high." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called the book "an intense, engrossingly structured tour de force about survival and ‘the secret of freedom, courage.’"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 1, 1997, Emily Melton, review of The Echo, p. 907; March 1, 1999, David Pitt, review of The Breaker, p. 1105; May 1, 2001, Joanne Wilkinson, review of The Shape of Snakes, p. 1643.
Library Journal, December 1, 2004, Michele Leber, review of Disordered Minds, p. 105; July 1, 2006, Devon Thomas, review of The Devil's Feather, p. 73.
New Statesman, October 30, 2000, Nichola Upson, review of The Shape of Snakes, p. 58; October 29, 2001, Amanda Craig, review of Acid Row, p. 55.
New Statesman & Society, October 13, 1995, Mary Scott, review of The Dark Room, pp. 32-33.
New York Times Book Review, October 2, 1994, Patrick McGrath, review of The Scold's Bridle, p. 30.
People, May 24, 1999, Pam Lambert, review of The Breaker, p. 49.
Publishers Weekly, February 3, 1997, review of The Echo, p. 93; April 12, 1999, review of The Breaker, p. 57; June 12, 2006, review of The Devil's Feather, p. 30.
Spectator, November 22, 2003, Harriet Waugh, "Howard's End Reconsidered," review of Disordered Minds, p. 57.
Student BMJ, September, 2003, Danielle Grossman, review of Acid Row, p. 346.
Washington Post Book World, October 16, 1994, Pat Dowell, review of The Scold's Bridle, p. 10.
Minette Walters Home Page,http://www.minettewalters.co.uk (April 15, 2007).