Book Review: Twisted Wing by Ruth Newman

Twisted wingTwisted Wing by Ruth Newman

Have you ever read the first 100 pages of a book and given up? That is what I nearly did with this one. But I persevered, and I am glad I did. The remaining 250 pages more than make up for the weak start.

The plot is a staple one, that of a serial killer in a Cambridge University college (this one called Ariel). As the book opens, a female undergraduate has been horribly murdered. It turns out that she is the third person to have been killed in less than 3 years. DCI Withers is now assigned to the case, having previously been sidelined for trying to convince his boss that the previous two deaths at the same college were related. Now that a third woman has been killed, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that one person, dubbed by the unimaginative media “the Cambridge Butcher”, is responsible. As well as the Withers back-story, we also get to know the group of undergraduates at Ariel who were in the victims’ circle. They are a disparate group, rather too Evelyn Waugh for my taste. A third aspect to the narrative is Matthew Denison, a forensic psychiatrist who is an old university friend of Withers and who is called in not only to examine the victims’ bodies but also to help investigate the crimes from the perspective of the mind and motivation of the killer(s). He has a very bland domestic set up with an always-understanding woman called Cass, which I could certainly have done without.

After about 100 pages of this I was getting quite bored and finding it hard to fix (or care about) the half-dozen or so examples of privileged youth who are presumably intended to be the chief suspects for the murders. However, when one of them becomes traumatised and hospitalised by having witnessed the third murder, as well as being a suspected perpetrator, the book begins to grip. And the grip continues to tighten, as we travel through a case of multiple personality disorder while Matthew tries to disentangle objective truth from present and past traumas. Suddenly, the story of the events surrounding all three murders is told chronologically, which brings the whole book into focus as the characters shift into three dimensions, and their reactions gel. I became more and more absorbed, as the temperature dropped lower and lower (figuratively and literally), and twist after twist caught me on the hop. In the end, I would say this novel is almost Scandinavian in quality as a piece of crime fiction, and that is praise indeed.

Twisted Wing was first published by Long Barn Books (warning: spoilers in blurb at the link) in the days when they published first novels that won their competition.  It was then published in paperback by Simon and Schuster (blurb is brief but fairly spoilerish), which is the edition I purchased and read.

Other reviews of this book:

Reviewing the Evidence (Sharon Wheeler, excellent review, as usual)

Fleur Fisher (a very perceptive review)

The Spectator 

8 thoughts on “Book Review: Twisted Wing by Ruth Newman

  1. Maxine – Thanks for this excellent review. Except for the slow start, this seems like a good read. I’m going to have to think about looking for this one. I get intrigued by books where we learn about the characters bit by bit, so long as it’s not drawn out…

  2. She has my sympathy. Keeping up the suspense all the time is just not that easy 😀
    The college environment sounds interesting, though.
    PS: I am looking forward to your review of The Janus Stone.

  3. I’ve only skimmed your review as I read three or four pages of Twisted Wing whilst at CrimeFest. I know to give it quite a few more pages :).

  4. I don’t give away spoilers in my reviews (I trust). Honestly, there is less spoiler material in a review of mine than you’ll find in the blurb of a book. I regard it as one of the cardinal rules of a crime fiction review, not to give away anything that will reduce anyone’s surprise or sense of discovery while reading the book. I hope I succeed, but always willing to learn!

  5. More angels! I don’t remember if Karen had this one in her bunch of angel books.
    As for the book it sounds like one to give a go – and as I have learned to my detriment I must only listen to you in future (speaking of which I started the Simon Lelic book last night and am totally engrossed – I thought seriously about calling in sick today – it almost has a physical pull on me).

  6. Yes, it is immoral(!) to give spoilers, even when blogging, I think. I am tempted sometimes but then I realize how much I hate spoilers.
    This review does entice me to read this book. And I am knee-deep in “In Free Fall,” by Juli Zeh and an assignment I must do is in tough competition and has been losing all day.
    I cannot wait for “The Janus Stone.” I Loved Griffiths’ first book in this series.

  7. I think she did, Bernadette. Agreed on the Lelic, quite searing.
    K, I’ve now read The Janus Stone, review t/c in a couple of days. It’s good!

  8. Another win for Amazon or the Book Depository to get The Janus Stone. This and Hypothermia are my priorities, as well as the Theorin, Manotti and Piniero. Isn’t it great summer is coming, with more opportunities for reading–iced tea, either a spot outside in a park or a cafe or in a/c, turning off the phone and just escaping to Spain, Sweden, Italy, rural England, Argentina, cannot wait. Will start early this holiday weekend (across the Atlantic, anyway), three days to read.

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