The Scold's Bridle, by Minette Walters

An old woman, Mathilda, is found dead in her bath: she's wearing a scold's bridle and a crown of flowers. She appears to have cut her wrists. Although some are willing to dismiss it as suicide, Cooper, the keen-eyed policeman, and Sarah Blakeney, the woman's doctor, think that foul play has occurred. Then, when the will is read, it turns out that suspicion falls on Sarah: Mathilda has disinherited her daughter and grand-daughter, and left her entire estate (worth 750K) to Sarah, who had no idea that she was a beneficiary.

This was apparently the "crime book of the year" so I was quite hopeful about this. But my heart sank with the opening scene - another book that starts with a ritualistic murder in a sleepy village. Well at least there wasn't a series of murders, although maybe it would have been more interesting had there been. It was sort of a low-quality Val McDermid book, or maybe more like a Wexford story.

The story was full of red herrings and plot strands which ended up being completely unrelated to the actual murder so that by the time you found out who did it (which I suspected about half way through, based on the fact that the story kept returning to talk about pretty much the only person in the book who had absolutely no apparent motive for doing it) it all seemed a bit of a disappointment. I am at a loss to know how this could be "best" crime book - maybe it was a bad year. There was about one section in the book, where Sarah's husband is trying to prevent a rape (which turns out to have nothing at all to do with Mathilda's death) which was quite exciting, but apart from that it was a bit of a slog getting through this book. And Walter's cannot have read Elmore Leonard's rules for writing. More often than not, her characters don't say anything; they declare it phlegmatically, or whisper it depairingly.

I might try another Minette Walters book, just in case this was a poor example. I know that some of McDermid's books are pretty poor, and I think Walters has written quite a few crime novels, so presumably there must be something going for her. But I wouldn't recommend this one.

Completed : 12-Aug-2007 (audiobook)

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