This is an intriguing, well written mystery which garnered the 1994 Edgar Award for best novel of the year for British writer, Minette Walters, who has written quite a number of excellent books. She is a writer in the tradition of that other great British novelist, Ruth Rendell, known also as Barbara Vine. The comparison by those who are familiar with the works of both Ms. Walters and Ms. Rendell is inescapable.
This book revolves around two main stories that become by necessity intertwined. One is that of a morbidly obese, young woman, Olive Martin, who is imprisoned for the brutal and grisly murders of her mother, Gwen, and beautiful, younger sister, Amber, whose butchered bodies shocked even the most jaded of folks. On the eve of trial, Olive made a full confession to the crime and received a prison sentence of not less than twenty-five years for her butchery. Known in prison as "The Sculptress", she passes the time making miniature, carved, wax images, a delicate and sensitive pastime for one with a reputation for such primal savagery.
Enter Rosalind "Roz" Leigh, a thirties something author suffering from writer's block, who accepts a commission to write about the Olive Martin case. After meeting Olive, she becomes intrigued by her, finding her to be other than what she had expected, and a symbiotic relationship develops between the two. As she delves into the facts of the murder case, and as her interviews with Olive reveal, all is not quite what it seems. The more that Roz sorts through the facts and the more people that she interviews who were in some way associated with the Martin family, the more she becomes convinced that a miscarriage of justice has occurred and that the wrong person is paying a horrific price for the grisly murders of Gwen and Amber.
Someone, however, does not wish her to dig too deeply. With the aid of a former police sergeant, Hal Hawksley, an attractive, though conflicted, young man who is now her new love interest and was also the officer who arrested Olive for the murders, Roz stays the course and perserveres in her inquiry. What she discovers is a complex morass of human indifference, greed, and passion that makes for a compelling and well crafted mystery.