Minette Walters, The Sculptress (St. Martin’s, 1993)
[originally posted 19Sep2000]
Back when I was reading The Breaker, I noticed that a lot of reviews of it compared it quite unfavorably to Walters’ other novels. I still consider those reviews somewhat wrongheaded, but now I realize it’s not because people didn’t realize The Breaker was any good; it’s because people were seeing the same kinds of plot devices as Walters has used int he past, but Walters is now getting too subtle for the average mystery reader.
The Sculptress relies on exactly the same pacing and plot twists as does The Breaker, but the manipulations are more out in the open. Walters introduces her characters early on, throws in a number of suspects, an irrelevant but intriguing subplot, and a few clues, and then allows the reader to form a conclusion which, while seeming rational (and allowing the reader to think “man, am I smart for figuring this out in the first sixty pages!”), turns out to be utterly absurd, and as the book comes to a close the plot twists come fast and furious. Not that they weren’t always there, we were just lulled into a false sense of security.
While I consider The Breaker a superior novel, this isn’t to say that Walters’ more visible manipulations in The Sculptress makes the latter a bad novel. Far from it, in fact. Walters has the blackest of wits, a deft hand with the management of suspects and clues, and the ability to come up with the most devilish alternate (but obvious) explanations for the behavior of her characters. Walters is already considered a national treasure in the British Isles; here’s to hoping we Americans catch up soon. *** ½