Minette Walters is a terrific writer and certainly deserves the comparisons to Ruth Rendell and PD James. Yet, it's hard to know what to make of this compelling yet flawed book. Elderly Mathilda Gillespie, wealthy, eccentric and misanthropic, is found dead, gruesomely, with wrists slit and an ancient torture instrument on her head. Suicide, or murder? And what about that will?
Each chapter is prefaced, brilliantly, with an excerpt from Mathilda's diaries. Literate and erudite in a
period where women of her social position were destined purely for domestic ornamentation, her decades of vindictive bitterness all but spit at us from the pages.
There's a much more interesting and less homogeneous than usual cast of characters, and the wonderful dialog perfectly captures their varying classes, ages and personalities. The book is supposedly set in or near the present but apart from the occasional f-word and references to heroin and abortion, has a sort of
otherwordly timelessness of most classic British mysteries.
The motive behind the killing turns out to be weak, the final reconciliation of the main characters mawkish, and the intergenerational torture and other goings-on is laid on heavily enough to be almost slapstick in the end. But so assured and precise is the telling that The Scold's Bridle remains an enjoyable book. If you like British whodunnits, then read it, it's darker and edgier than most of them. I'll definitely be reading more Minette Walters.