Friday, July 30, 2010

Book Review: The Sculptress

Minette Walters
Awards: Edgar
Rating: ★ ★ – – –


This book was great, a real page-turner, up to the halfway point, when it abruptly started losing my belief and my patience and my interest.

The story revolves around Olive, an enormously obese woman who is serving a 25-year prison term for the gruesome murder of her mother and sister. A writer, Roz, is doing research for a book about the murders and ends up discovering evidence that suggests that Olive didn't commit the murders after all.

Olive is a disturbed, creepy person who makes voodoo dolls of clay and candle wax and has to be carefully drawn out to say anything of value. Roz's initial investigation into the murders was lively and kept my interest up, particularly when she was interviewing Olive.

But it all starts to go downhill when Roz gets involved with Hal, one of the policemen who arrested Olive, who is now retired and running a restaurant.

Roz’s ex-policeman/restaurateur boyfriend has problems of his own - a foreclosure-scam lawyer trying to get him to close his restaurant. As it turns out, the lawyer was Olive’s family lawyer and had invested in properties (including Hal’s restaurant) with Olive's inheritance assuming she'd be in jail for 25 years, and now that it appears she might be innocent after all he has to start breaking people's kneecaps to get the money back. All of this seemed like an attempt to be twisty that just got too complicated.

Also the relationship between Roz and the policeman is juvenile and annoying. When they got together, Roz suddenly became the stereotypical sassy but helpless heroine. Hal became her stalwart protector and kept referring to her as "woman", as in, "woman, you drive me crazy."

I also didn't buy Olive's character change over the course of the story. She went from being a tough, recalcitrant prisoner who insists she committed the murders to a soft mush-mouth who cries a lot and is practically falling over herself to explain everything that really happened.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the book, though, if I may hearken back to my politically correct college days, is its treatment of the Female Body Image. First there is the obvious contrast between fat, creepy, evil Olive and skinny, sassy, virtuous Roz. There are also a couple times when Roz gets beaten up – once by her ex-husband and once by thugs hired to take back Hal’s restaurant. There is a lot of lingering detail about Roz’s injuries, and her bruises bring out the lover and romantic protector in Hal in a way that I found less than comfortable.

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