Winner of the CWA Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel of the Year, The Scold's Bridle is the mystery thriller from crime queen Minette Walters.
I wonder if I should keep these diaries under lock and key. Jenny Spede has disturbed them again . . . What does she make, I wonder, of an old woman, deformed by arthritis, stripping naked for a young man? The pills worry me more. Ten is such a round number to be missing . . .
Mathilda Gillespie's body was found nearly two days after she had taken an overdose and slashed her wrists with a Stanley knife. But what shocked Dr Sarah Blakeney the most was the scold's bridle obscuring the dead woman’s face, a metal contraption grotesquely adorned with a garland of nettles and Michaelmas daisies. What happened at Cedar House in the tortured hours before Mathilda's death?
The police assume that the coroner will return a verdict of suicide. Only Dr Blakeney, it seems, doubts the verdict. Until it is discovered that Mathilda’s diaries have disappeared . . .
Britain's Walters, whose The Sculptress won the 1993 Edgar for best novel, excels at depicting monstrously dysfunctional families and the murder and mayhem they wreak; and old Mathilda Gillespie's clan is a humdinger. The daughter of this bitter, snobbish, nasty-minded recluse is a prostitute on dope; the granddaughter's a schoolgirl being blackmailed into theft by a rapist lover. Gillespie's own past contains its share of feeblemindedness, violence, booze, abortion and incest. When the old woman is found dead in her bathtub, a peculiar medieval device over her head (the ``scold's bridle'' of the title), there is no shortage of suspects in her Dorset village. Both the local woman doctor, one of the few people who could tolerate the dead woman, and the cynical artist husband from whom she is separating spar with empathetic Detective Sgt. Cooper as they search for a killer. The fact that it takes these very bright people longer to figure out the perpetrator than it does a not-especially-smart reader is the chief strike against this otherwise intelligent and enjoyable-if slightly overplotted-mystery, which is essentially an English cozy with distinctly quirky overtones.