cover image The Scold's Bridle

The Scold's Bridle

Minette Walters. St. Martin's Press, $21.95 (327pp) ISBN 978-0-312-11377-3

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. (Oct.)