Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fox Evil

Fox Evil is the fourth Minette Walters book I've read in the past few years, and it's structurally similar to Acid Row, with apparently disparate story lines colliding at the midpoint of the novel, shifting narrators, a strong professional heroine, the final third of the novel running in what feels like real time, and a happy ending.  Fox Evil is more of a whodunnit than Acid Row, which could have been named Anatomy of a Riot, and while I expected the happy ending, I didn't solve the mystery.

Fox Evil opens in August 2001 with a band of Travellers convening in Dorset.  Ten-year-old Wolfie lives with, and in fear of, his stepfather Fox, a psychotic bully with a mysteriously posh accent.  About the same time, Col. James Lockyer-Fox's lawyer Mark Ankerton tracks down his client's granddaughter, born to his then teenage daughter and privately adopted by a farm family.  Naturally Ankerton expects a family eeking out a bare living and an heir who will be impressed by her newly-found family.  Nancy Smith, however, is an Oxford grad who's a Captain in the Royal Engineers visiting her family's prosperous 2000-acre farm, and more impressed with the prospect of being the fourth generation (and her future children being the fifth) to farm the same land than with Col. Lockyer-Fox's wealth.  

Shortly before Christmas, the Travellers encamp near Lockyer-Fox's estate.  Mark Ankerton has decided to stay with his client during the holiday and discovers that someone has been making harassing phone calls  to the Colonel since his wife died.  Nancy Smith, on the way back to her unit after a holiday break, stops by the manor on Boxing Day and unexpectedly forges common ground with her newly-found grandfather.  Then the plotlines begin to intertwine.

I really feel I haven't done Fox Evil justice in this review.  It's a fantastic, fast-paced mystery with compelling characters and a believable outcome.  I stayed up well past midnight to finish it, but if I explain why, I'll be posting spoilers.  I will say that the happy ending doesn't seem tacked on as it might be.  Walters gave the secondary and tertiary characters just enough pages so that we not only want their lives to improve, we can think "That's nice," instead of "Yeah, right," when Travellers, army officers, policemen, and lawyers get together for a party.

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