The Tinder Box by Minette Walters: Book Review

I really enjoyed this novella by Minette Walters. Being a short mystery it is succinctly written and yet I could still imagine the characters and settings from the descriptions. The Tinder Box is aptly named – about a situation set to burst into flames at any moment.

Description from the book cover:

In the small Hampshire village of Sowerbridge, Irish labourer Patrick O’Riordan has been arrested for the brutal murder of elderly Lavinia Fanshaw and her live-in nurse, Dorothy Jenkins. As shock turns to fury, the village residents form a united front against Patrick’s parents and cousin, who report incidents of vicious threats and violence.

But friend and neighbour Siobhan Lavenham remains convinced that Patrick has fallen victim to a prejudiced investigation and, putting her own position within the bigoted community in serious jeopardy, stands firmly by his family in defence of the O’Riordan name.

Days before the trial, terrible secrets about the O’Riordans’ past are revealed to Siobhan, and the family’s only supporter is forced to question her loyalties. Could Patrick be capable of murder after all? Could his parents’ tales of attacks be devious fabrications? And if so, what other lies lurk beneath the surface of their world?

As the truth rapidly unfurls, it seems that Sowerbridge residents need to be very afraid. For beneath a cunning façade, someone’s chilling ambition is about to ignite . . .

My thoughts:

In some ways this is a theme-heavy book, dwelling as it does on prejudice, incitement to violence and vigilantism as the inhabitants of the village unite in their dislike of the O’Riordan family living in their midst. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that misunderstanding and ignorance are really the problem. I liked the way Minette Walters has structured The Tinder Box using flashbacks,  moving between events that lead up to Patrick’s arrest and the aftermath.

For such a short book it is remarkably complex and layered and the ending with its alternative scenarios is excellent. I think I enjoyed it so much because it is so condensed – it made a refreshing change from the long and detailed books I’ve been reading recently.

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Macmillan (14 Jun 2004)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1405048557
  • ISBN-13: 978-1405048552
  • Source: Library book


5 thoughts on “The Tinder Box by Minette Walters: Book Review

  1. Margaret – Thanks for this fine review. I like Minette Walters’ work quite a lot. She handles those psychological themes so well, I think. I’m glad you liked this novel as well as you did.


  2. At first I thought you were talking about the story by Hans Christian Anderson, which was part of my dad’s reading-to-the kids repertoire when I was young and that still can produce chills down the spine when I think about it.

    That said, this sounds like an interesting novella–short but challenging.

    Thanks for the review–will look for it.


    • Jane, Yes – Hans Christian Andersen’s story was one of my favourites and I thought of it as soon as I saw this book. Both stories are spine chilling in their own ways.


  3. I know that I liked this book, but I don´t remember it really. I think the ´problem´ about Minette Walters is that she set out by writing one of my absolute favourites, The Ice House. Since then she has written many good books, but she has never surpassed that brilliant debut.


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