Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Sculptress by Minette Walters

First published 1993; cover shown is the 1996 Pan Books (UK) paperback edition. Cover shows Pauline Quirke as Olive Martin in the BBC TV production. 441p.

"The facts of the case were simple: Olive Martin had pleaded guilty to killing and dismembering her sister and mother, earning herself the chilling nickname 'The Sculptress'. This much journalist Rosalind Leigh knew before her first meeting with Olive, currently serving a life sentence. How could Roz have foreseen that the encounter was destined to change her life - for ever?"

The was the first Walters I ever read - I remember reading it in my Geology class at high school (I was failing anyway). Her subsequent novels 'The Dark Room', 'The Scold's Bridle' and 'The Ice House' were published in quick succession and were equally as good. Then came 'The Echo', which I struggled with. Then 'The Breaker', which semi-restored my faith in Walters. That was in 1998. Her more recent work is still, from what I've read, good, but I haven't been tempted to try them - apart from 'Chickenfeed', her fictionalised account of a true 1920s murder. This was published as part of the Quick Reads series, and was reviewed on this blog last year.

The first paragraph of 'The Sculptress' is one of the best openings of a crime novel I've ever read:

"It was impossible to see her approach without a shudder of distaste. She was a grotesque parody of a woman, so fat that her feet and hands and head protruded absurdly from the huge slab of her body like tiny disproportionate afterthoughts. Dirty blonde hair clung damp and thin to her scalp, black patches of sweat spread beneath her armpits. Clearly, walking was painful. She shuffled forward on the insides of her feet, legs forced apart by the thrust of one gigantic thigh against another, balance precarious. And with every movement, however small, the fabric of her dress strained ominously as the weight of her flesh shifted. She had, it seemed, no redeeming features. Even her eyes, a deep blue, were all but lost in the ugly folds of pitted white lard."

If you want to create a monster, an opening description like that is definitely a good start!

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