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It was back in 2005 when I first read a novel by Minette Walters and she has remained one of my favourite authors since then. Now I am heavily pregnant and have very little energy, I decided I needed a good book to get into, perfect for reading while on the sofa or in bed trying to rest. I turned to my collection of her novels I haven't yet read and chose The Dark Room, which was first published back in 1995.
Minette Walters writes crime thrillers, but they are more than a basic 'whodunnit' kind of book. She interweaves so many different strands that it never becomes boring and there is always a great rush for the finish line, as you want to know what happened and why. Her books are peppered with accompanying news articles, crime reports and police memos which add to the case and keep you guessing right to the end. They are also quite meaty reads, The Dark Room being over 500 pages long, but I read the whole thing quite quickly.
The main character in this book is Jane 'Jinx' Kingsley, the daughter of a rich businessman who runs her own photographic studio. When we first meet her, she is in the Nightingale Clinic in Salisbury, a privately run clinic where Dr Alan Protheroe is treating her for post-traumatic amnesia following concussion. It seems fairly straight-forward at first. Her fiancé Leo Wallander jilted her for her best friend Meg Harris and following this news, Jinx apparently tried to kill herself by smashing her car into a concrete stanchion on a disused airfield, resulting in her injuries.
Of course, things are never this straight-forward or it would be a much shorter and less exciting novel! We meet a variety of characters throughout the chapters and over time, different scenarios come to the forefront and we are left wondering if perhaps this happened or that happened. Jinx's family is an unusual one with her father Adam being in the picture for a possible murder of her husband some years ago. Her stepmother Betty is an alcoholic of an unstable nature and Jinx's two younger brothers, Miles and Fergus, are disreputable characters who dabble in drugs and gambling. Could any of them be implicated in what becomes a double murder investigation?
Minette Walters is very good at describing characters and each one comes to life through her words. This means that although there are many different people in the story, the reader still finds it easy enough to remember who is who and to form an opinion on them. Similarly, the different plot strands are woven effortlessly through the main story and we can keep up with what is going on, knowing they will all come together in the end in a gripping finale.
Some of the content in Walters' writing is not pleasant and these books are not for those readers who enjoy nothing heavier than Mills and Boon or a gentle romance set in an idyllic English village. We have murder here, sexual abuse and child abuse, though it is much less graphic than a Martina Cole novel and the language is less offensive too. Nonetheless, Walters is definitely writing for an adult audience that can handle adult themes.
I really enjoyed reading The Dark Room as it was easy to get into, the characters are well-described and it is an intriguing story which keeps you thinking throughout. I didn't guess the murderer and enjoyed discovering who they were, what they had actually done and their motivations for their actions. There weren't really any flaws in the book, though if I had to pick something, I would say that Jinx isn't always as likeable as you might expect a heroine of a novel to be - but this was crucial to the plot, as there is always a question of how involved she was in the events and the novel wouldn't have worked as well if she was 100% perfect.
I would definitely recommend The Dark Room to any fans of this genre and Minette Walters will continue to be one of my favourite authors. In fact, I plan to read another of her novels now, probably The Ice House. Hopefully it will be just as good as The Dark Room, if not better.
There are thirteen novels published by Minette Walters and all are easily available. The Dark Room was her fourth published novel and is available from Amazon UK for £5.29 as a new paperback.