The Breaker

Minette Walters, Author Putnam Publishing Group $23.95 (351p) ISBN 978-0-399-14492-9
Walters's novels (The Echo, 1997, etc.) depict complex, fallible people caught in intricate plots whose course and solution defy guesswork. Here, a woman's body washes up on the Dorset coast; then a toddler is found wandering alone in the nearby town of Poole. Initially, the investigation identifies two suspects, later a third, with both the police and the reader unable to establish definite means and opportunity, although all three suspects have motives. The dead woman, Kate Sumner--who had been raped and strangled, her fingers broken before she drowned--was chameleonlike: a greedy, malicious social climber, but an attentive wife and loving mother. Her husband may be a browbeaten yet adoring spouse, but his child fears him and his alibi is questionable. One suspect, Steven Harding, is a self-absorbed, sex-obsessed actor and a compulsive liar, but there's little evidence of his rumored affair with Kate. His friend Tony Bridges is a respected high school chemistry teacher with a heavy dope habit and a yen for his female students. The local constable, Nick Ingram, whose lack of ambition hides a probing mind and sharp insights into the human psyche, is immersed in the perplexing case. His investigation reacquaints him with stableyard owner Maggie Jenner, whose marriage to a confidence man shattered her family and its fortune, for which she unreasonably holds Nick responsible; Maggie and Nick's slow, witty courtship is one of the great pleasures of the novel. Each time the police develop a strong case against one suspect, the evidence shifts, pointing to another. Finally, a clever analysis of events and of human motivation leads them to the guilty party. This is psychological suspense at its best, engendered in a novel whose sinuous plot and enigmatic characters will captivate readers as surely as newfound love. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/03/1999
Release date: 05/01/1999
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