Author – Minette Walters
Published -May 2015
Genre – ?
This is another book that defied me to put it in a neat genre category – but that’s something I will come back to. I am a huge Minette Walters fan, having read all of her previous titles starting with The Ice House in 1992 (which won the CWA John Creasey award). Her books were all standalone stories and a mix of crime fiction and psychological thrillers with a realism akin to the Nicci French books I also love. With the last novel being published in 2007 I was therefore thrilled when The Cellar was published earlier this year. At just shy of 250 pages it’s more of a novella than a novel, but is still longer than the few ‘quick reads’ that she has written in the interim.
The main character in the story is Muna and it soon becomes clear that she is a young African girl being kept as a domestic slave by an African family somewhere in England. When one of the family’s sons goes missing they are unable to prevent strangers (the police) entering the house and so they present Muna as their brain-damaged daughter. Clearly under the control of Yetunde and Ebuka she is unable or unwilling to speak up for herself; her dreams of seeking help seem to be shattered.
What we discover from Muna, however, is that they have underestimated her. Her distressing narrative documents the horrors that have befallen her at the hands of this couple and their sons, but as the story progresses she assumes a greater and greater confidence. As she tells the father ‘I am what you … have made me’. Her mis-treatment has hardened her and removed any chance of affection and it is at a price they will pay.
The book keeps a steady pace, throwing in some unexpected twists and turns and Walters’ writing is faultless. So back to the issue of genre. Buying the book based on the author alone I was expecting something with more of a crime fiction basis, or a psychological thriller. While it has aspects of both, and reminded me of some of the more recent Ruth Rendell titles, the odd page or two at the very end made me think of Stephen King. And then I discover that the book was published by Hammer and all of a sudden it made sense.
Not quite the Minette Walters I remember, but still a topical, thought-provoking and disturbing read. You can see another point of view on the Eurocrime blog.