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by Minette Walters
Pan, November 2002
415 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 1405001097

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Minette Walters follows up her recent investigation of life on an urban "sink estate" (ACID ROW) with an equally stressful trip to a rural village, in this case, in Dorset,  populated by a few remnants of  the landed gentry, an infusion of the newly monied from town, and some raggle-taggle Travellers in search of a place to set down permanent roots.  This last group is led by the menacing Fox, who carries a razor and a hammer in his pocket and who seems very far from the New Age spirit of the rest of the band.  He in turn has a child in tow, the undersized and terrified Wolfie, who has learned to make himself very small and unnoticed as a way of keeping out of the way of Fox's razor.

One of the landed gentry, James Lockyer-Fox, has lost his wife in mysterious circumstances and now sits in his crumbling old house, bitter, isolated, and frightened, the target of malicious gossip and threatening phone calls in the middle of the night.  He and his dead wife have disinherited their two children, and now he has no family to which to turn.  He dispatches his solicitor, Mark Ankerton, to plead with his granddaughter, Capt. Nancy Smith of the Royal Engineers, to get in touch, but Nancy, who was born out of wedlock, adopted as a newborn, and raised by a prosperous farm family whom she loves and respects, wants no part of it.  Eventually, however, she does meet  James and, much against her will, is drawn into the ambiguities and conflicts of the village of her birth.

Clearly, this is an ambitious and complex plot line, one that is typical of Walters in its deft handling of a number of serious themes.  Here her usual concern with class is expanded as she raises the issues of  the importance of  familial inheritance and of nurture vs. nature.  Despite the underlying seriousness of its themes, Fox Evil is as much of a page turner as any of Walters' earlier novels, and develops a level of suspense part-way through intense enough that I had to abandon reading it in bed.  

Capt. Smith is an unusually attractive character, especially as Walters places her in the usual fem-jep situations, where she proves resourceful and exceptionally able to cope.  She also uses barrack-room language, quite refreshing in a character whom we anticipate might become a romantic lead. The novel does have some weaknesses, however, especially as Walters seems unable to explain  her complicated plot without recourse to the tired device of a newspaper report and a lawyer's letter.  Still and all, we do read the final pages with considerable satisfaction, especially as Walters once again redeems her bleak subject matter with an optimism that seems unforced.

This review refers to the original UK edition.  A US edition is promised for May.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, January 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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