America has an ongoing love affair with British mysteries. Writers like Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle and PD James have delighted us with characters like Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes and Adam Dalgliesh. In addition to reading great books, we watch beautifully made adaptations on public television as well as mainstream movies and delight in old standards and updated versions alike.
However, just because a mystery and its writer are British born doesn’t mean it’s top-notch. Recently, I was introduced to Minette Walters through her book Innocent Victims (Mysterious Press, 2012) after learning she has won the Edgar Award (named for Edgar Allen Poe) and the Gold Dagger. I thought I would enjoy reading two of her first novellas, published together for the first time.
Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the relationship the reader has with Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse and later, the inspired Inspector Lewis. Walters didn’t seem to make an emotional connection.
The first novella is called Chickenfeed, based on the “Chicken Farm Murder,” an actual event in East Sussex in 1924. Ms. Walters fleshed out the characters, provided an explanation for the events and added suspense to a horrific story. However, instead of feeling compassion for the characters, they became irritating and the events appalling. Instead of compelling, I found it depressing.
The Tinder Box addressed the English and their prejudice toward the Irish. An Irish man is accused of murdering two women, and the English neighbors unite against him and his family, and target their family home. Or do they? It’s an interesting story, filled with plenty of twists and turns, but the magic just wasn’t there. The characters were never relatable, and that’s an important part of a mystery.
Both are short reads and, granted, The Tinder Box was her first book. For that reason, I do plan to read more of Ms. Walters’ work. I would suggest if you want either book found in this combination, purchase them as one book, find a used copy of either story or just try your local library. Innocent Victims lists for $22, and you are just getting a couple of previously published short stories.
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