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The Tinder Box - Minette Walters

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Author: Minette Walters / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 05 July 2012 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Pan Macmillan / Title: The Tinder Box / ISBN 13: 9781447208280 / ISBN 10: 1447208280

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      04.01.2006 22:38
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      A poorly written novella that would have come across better as a play

      In the small village of Sowerbridge, Irish labourer Patrick O’Riordan has been arrested for the murder of an elderly lady, 93-year-old Lavinia Fanshaw, and her live-in nurse Dorothy. The Sowerbridge community, outraged about the incident, seem to have united against Patrick’s parents and cousin – calling them all names under the sun, threatening both their life and limb.

      The only supporter the O’Riordan’s have is Siobhan Lavenham, their neighbour. She firmly believes in Patrick’s innocence and takes every opportunity to try and persuade the rest of the community and the police that they are wrong. In her mind, the village residents are simply prejudicial against Irish people. Siobhhan’s loyalty to the O’Riordan’s is tested time and time again as dark secrets about the family begin to surface. So who really killed Lavinia? And what was the motive behind it all?

      If you read the above synopsis and now ask yourself “So what?”, I simply cannot blame you. So ordinary is the storyline that it has been done many times before – from crime thrillers to soap operas – it is nothing new really. Hate, murder, mystery, discovery, the only way a author can succeed in making these kind of topics interesting is by making the way it is written and the character unique, special, one-of-a-kind.

      The structure of this novella is quite unique indeed. Walter has divided a mere 115 pages into seven chapters, the chapters again being sub-divided with headings specifying both dates and times. And this is where the flaws begin. There are simply too many sub-headings. And the sub-headings are not chronological. The reader is jumping back and forth in time and can only really trace the time line by carefully flicking back through the pages and re-arranging the sub-chapters mentally. The confusion is all the more present as the dates are not exactly far from one another – apart from the first sub-chapter, all dates are from January to March1999, challenging the reader to place close attention to it.

      The second flaw lies in the characters. It almost seems as if Walters was pressured by her editor to complete her story quickly – as no time and effort is devoted to painting a picture of any of the characters’ personalities. The reader cannot feel for Patrick, as the reader does not know Patrick. The reader cannot understand Siobhan’s motivations for defending the O’Riordan’s, as Siobhan is simply faceless. And the reader simply does not care who the murderer is.

      Maybe the lack of character portrayal lies in the writing style of Walter’s – most of the book is written by way of dialogue, giving the book a feel of a play. The seven chapters appear to be seven acts of a play. Act 1 sets the scene. Acts 2, 3 and 4 introduce the conflicts and dilemmas that challenge Siobhan’s view of things. In Act 5, another “player” is introduced on the scene, trying to mislead the reader. Act 6 has the climax. Act 7 is the simple ending and moral of the tale. I feel that I would have much more enjoyed the read if it has been written as a play – or if I had indeed seen it performed on stage by good actors.

      Maybe if I had seen it as a play or read it such, the characters would have been more memorable. Walters gives them all silly and complicated names – probably in an attempt to hook the names into the reader’s memory. However, I found myself incapable of remembering any of them once I put the read down.

      The storyline is not entirely predictable, and some may even call it shocking, but the failure of the author to convert it into an enjoyable read truly wasted the plot that could have been so beautifully developed if a few more caring touches had been put to polish up the rest of the aspects of this work.

      Perhaps the only good thing that one can say about this novella is that it is easy to read and not much time is wasted in completing it. It took me less than two hours to finish the book – which makes it a perfect choice for someone who has a couple of hours spare and lacks the patience to tackle a more meaty read.


      ***Further information***

      Pages:115
      Publisher: Macmillan
      Price: £3.99 on Amazon for a new paperback. Available used from £0.01.

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    • Product Details

      In the small Hampshire village of Sowerbridge, Irish labourer Patrick O'Riordan has been arrested for the brutal murder of elderly Lavinia Fanshaw and her live-in nurse, Dorothy Jenkins. As shock turns to fury, the village residents form a united front against Patrick's parents and cousin, who report incidents of vicious threats and violence. But friend and neighbour Siobhan Lavenham remains convinced that Patrick has fallen victim to a prejudiced investigation and, putting her own position within the bigoted community in serious jeopardy, stands firmly by his family in defence of the O'Riordan name. Days before the trial, terrible secrets about the O'Riordans' past are revealed to Siobhan, and the family's only supporter is forced to question her loyalties. Could Patrick be capable of murder after all? Could his parents' tales of attacks be devious fabrications? And if so, what other lies lurk beneath the surface of their world? As the truth rapidly unfurls, it seems that Sowerbridge residents need to be very afraid. For beneath a cunning facade, someone's chilling ambition is about to ignite.