Thursday, March 31, 2011

Disordered Minds

Minette Walters doesn't write straight-forward novels.  She drops newspaper clippings, e-mails, and police reports into the narrative, but somehow makes sure they contradict what she's just written.  Disordered Minds is a particularly twisty puzzle of a novel, and in my mind her second best (behind Fox Evil).  

Disordered Minds opens in 1970 with the particularly brutal gang rape of a 13-year-old girl as her best friend watches.  A few weeks later, the girl disappears.  Walters then cuts to a chapter in "Disordered Minds," a scholarly book by anthropologist Dr. Jonathan Hughes which argues that Howard Stamp did not murder his grandmother a few weeks after the opening scene.   George Gardiner, a 60ish woman who now lives in the neighborhood where both crimes occurred 35 years earlier contacts Dr. Hughes and after a particularly rough first meeting, they begin to unravel the case which is not so much cold as forced into a freezer.  

It doesn't take a lot of deduction to realize that the two crimes are somehow connected - two violent crimes separated by a few weeks and a few blocks, involving people who knew each other just can't be coincidental.  Walters is a master, though, and she keeps us guessing as to how they are connected, and who committed which crime.  Nothing is as it appears, and several characters have so completely hidden their pasts that the revelation of their true natures comes as a shock.  Against this dark and violent backdrop, Walters places the present day subplot of a wary academic with few friends and a lot of emotional baggage becoming close to the schlubby, frumpy older woman with whom he tracks down the killer.   Like a particularly dark Agatha Christie, Minette Walters serves justice with a happy ending.

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