MINETTE WALTERS. The Ice House (1992).

09 Aug

The subtitle of this début effort, “A Novel of Mystery,” neatly indicates that the business of solving a mystery will be secondary to the loftier, more “literary” ambition that Walters brings to the book. IceHouse2.jpgOf the detection, in the traditional sense, there is almost none. Instead, there is police work of an unorthodox and haphazardly successful kind. The men who perform that work—the harried and ever-suspicious Chief Inspector Walsh, and the recalcitrant Detective Sergeant McLoughlin—come across as fully rounded human beings. Readers who admire the old-fashioned detective story, in which a protagonist doggedly gathers clues and carefully arranges them into a pattern of murder and guilt, might complain that these would-be detective heroes are all too human. Others, with tastes that aren’t so pure, will appreciate how the complex and clashing emotions of various characters, including Walsh and McLoughlin, force the mysteries of Streech village to unravel of their own accord. Many readers will also enjoy the wry twist that Walters gives to the mystery genre. She infuses her tale with more sexual realism than fans of that genre typically want to see, and she deprives them the one thing that they definitely expect to see: namely, a murder.

[ADDENDUM: This review is another item that I’ve plucked from deep inside my digital archive, and like other reviews that I wrote long ago, it’s more schematic and less detailed than ones that I’ve written more recently. It also betrays the narrow view of crime and mystery literature that I held once upon a time. Back then, I really didn’t know what to make of a book about detectives that failed to include a straightforward murder, an intricate puzzle, and (ideally) a surprise ending. If I read this “novel of mystery” today, I might not like it, but I’d be less likely to focus on the author’s failure to write a proper detective novel.]


Posted by on August 9, 2012 in British, Noir, Novel


2 responses to “MINETTE WALTERS. The Ice House (1992).

  1. John

    August 12, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    Walters was one of the first crime writers to create what I think of as subversive mystery novels. She was turning all the conventions upside down and inside out and often outright satirizing the form. She wasn’t the first person to deprive readers of “the one thing that they definitely expect to see” — I can think of a book by Anthony Berkeley and one by Carter Dickson that seem to have a murder but in the end there is not. Caroline Graham also wrote a brilliantly subversive detective novel in THE KILLINGS AT BADGER’S DRIFT which introduces an absolutely taboo topic into the story. I intensely dislike that Walters no longer writes these types of books and that instead she has turned into a novelist who uses the crime novel as a platform for social criticism. For me her books are boring now.

  2. Mike

    August 14, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    Great comment. Thanks, John. I appreciate the way that you put this novel into a broad context—a broader context, at any rate, than I was able to muster when I was a young and tender devotee of the mystery genre. Nothing that I’ve read about Walters’s later efforts (including what you write here) has made me want to revisit her work. But it always helps to consider an author in light of what she’s aiming to do, and not in light of what you expect her to do.


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