Author of the Month

Name: Minette Walters

First Novel: The Ice House

Most Recent Book: The Cellar

'Minette Walters is my favourite crime fiction writer of all time.'

Her bedroom is a dark windowless cellar, her activities confined to cooking and cleaning. She has never been outside and cannot speak English.

She has grown used to being maltreated by the Songoli family; to being a slave. At least that is what they believe.

But Muna is far cleverer - and her plans more terrifying - than the Songolis can possibly imagine.

Minette Walters is my favourite crime fiction writer of all time. Her thrillers explore the dark recesses of human behaviour and examine why people commit the most terribly crimes against each other. Ms Walters hasn't written a full novel since 2007; just a couple of well-received short stories for Quick Reads. This novella is a welcome addition to Walters' library and I hope it won't be long before a full novel from the Queen of the psychological thriller is released.

‘The Cellar’ is published by Hammer which have released some excellent horror stories over the past couple of years. This is billed as Minette Walters' first foray into the horror genre but it reads more like one of her trademark psychological dramas as she tackles the disturbing world modern day slavery.

The story itself is disturbing as the violence inflicted on the enslaved Muna is revealed. There is no wonder she speaks to the Devil; she has witnessed only horror in her short life. Her actions, though unsettling, are justifiable as she calmly begins to grow in confidence. Minette Walters has used her skill at creating vulnerable characters with depth to produce a story so raw and dark that it will linger in the mind long after the final page.

I hope ‘The Cellar’ marks a return for Ms Walters. It may have been eight years since her last novel, but she hasn't lost her zest for telling a difficult story and telling it very well.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) This is a departure from your usual psychological thrillers. Are you moving into the horror genre?
No. The invitation to write a Hammer Horror Novella came from Selina Walker of Random House. I agreed immediately because the idea appealed to me. The horror genre lends itself to the darkest human emotions and, as an author, I’ve always found those the most compelling.
2) ‘The Cellar’ comes under the Hammer (Hammer Horror) brand. Are you a fan of horror novels and if so, who are your favourite horror writers?
The first book I was ever given was Grimms’ fairy tales, and in my teens I discovered Edgar Allan Poe stories, Denis Wheatley novels and Hammer Horror movies. I’ve never forgotten the shock that reading or seeing each for the first time gave me. The experience was half-repellent, half-addictive! I still enjoy horror films though these days they tend to be a deal more gory and brutal than when Christopher Lee was baring his Dracula teeth. I’m a fan of the Blade trilogy but if your readers like their horror within a thriller, I’d recommend A Lonely Place to Die (2011, a British movie directed by Julian Gilbey) which begins and ends with Edgar Allan Poe’s recurring nightmare of live entombment.
3) ‘The Cellar’ covers the theme of modern day slavery. What research did you do into this area and were you shocked by what you uncovered?
I usually choose themes I know something about so I’d read a great deal on modern day slavery before I began ‘The Cellar’. It’s a very shocking subject, not least because we, as a society, have turned a blind eye to it for so long. There’s a horrible similarity between our reluctance to confront the abuse of children in Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford and our reluctance to recognise how easy it is for affluent slave owners to import, use and abuse domestic workers who lack the courage, knowledge and language skills to seek help. This is not to mention the traffic and subjugation of naïve, young women who are brought to this country as prostitutes or the exportation of British-born daughters for the slavery of forced marriage. There are some very unpleasant cultures in the world which, sadly, operate and thrive in the polite, respectful environment of Western democracies.
4) Your books have always dealt with big issues like homelessness in ‘The Echo’, racism in ‘The Shape of Snakes’, ignorance in ‘Acid Row’ and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in ‘The Chameleon’s Shadow’. In ‘The Cellar’ you deal with slavery. What is it about these issues that make you want to tackle them in your books? Why do you think crime fiction is a good medium to highlight these and other problems?
Apart from the fact that these issues interest me, ‘marginalisation’ is a theme that most readers can identify with. It’s rare for anyone to go through life without feeling an outsider at least once. The first days at school or in a new job are always lonely. You do your best to present yourself in a good light only to find that cliques are already well-established. For some groups – the disabled, the disfigured, the obviously foreign, those who don’t conform to the ‘norm’ - isolation can last a lifetime. Perhaps I like to challenge society’s ridiculous belief that first impressions are always right!
5) Your books are normally sprinkled with documents and witness statements (and in ‘The Shape of Snakes’ you had photos of a wedding inside!). They do not appear in ‘The Cellar’. Why was that? Are they likely to appear in the next book?
There wasn’t room in ‘The Cellar’. Being a novella, every word counted and I couldn’t indulge in the luxury of documents and photos. I’m sure they’ll reappear again in future books because I love the idea of moving a plot forward in an unconventional way.
6) Your first five books were made in to TV adaptations in quick succession. Our TV screens are now filled with crime dramas. Do you think this is a good thing or are we being saturated by too much crime? Do you feel it has got more gratuitous in recent years?
I can only speak from my own point of view. To watch a series – whether crime, soap or historical – is virtually impossible for me. Even with the ‘record’ button, I rarely have the time to watch all the episodes. I prefer the movie format of 2 hours, be it made for TV or the cinema, which I can watch at a single sitting. If by ‘gratuitous’ you mean ‘gratuitously violent’ I certainly think we see more brutal crimes on our screens than we used to. However, constant repeats of Miss Marple, Murder She Wrote and Colombo hold the gentler line, and I’ve spent many a night in a hotel bedroom, wading through foreign reality shows to settle with relief on Colombo. I’m a fan of both types of crime portrayal. I like the puzzle element of Murder She Wrote and have no problem with violence in a realistically depicted murder. Murder is always violent, whatever method is used, for the damage done can never be undone. That being said, my preferred crime viewing is ‘true crime’ on the many documentary crime channels that are available. Reality is usually stranger than fiction, and it’s a great research tool!
7) I am a huge fan of your novels but there hasn't been one since ‘The Chameleon’s Shadow’ in 2007. Can we expect something from you soon?
I’m doing my best!
8) For writers who are just starting out on their ‘novel journey’, what one piece of advice would you give?
Don’t be afraid to start. If your first idea doesn’t work, you can always delete and begin again.
9) If you were stranded on a desert island what three crime books could you not be without? Can you tell us why they made such an impression on you?
The Sherlock Holmes Omnibus - Arthur Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle was the first crime author I ever read. My mother had bound copies of The Strand Magazine (where Sherlock Holmes first appeared) and I read them avidly from the age of seven. Conan Doyle taught me the excitement of the mystery story and the power of great writing. He communicates so directly with his reader that I’ve never met anyone who struggles to finish a Sherlock Holmes story.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca is a rare and brilliant murder story. It stands alone as an example of how a psychological thriller can and should be written. Du Maurier’s handling of her three main characters shows an extraordinary grasp of psychology at a time when the science was still young. Her artistry lies in her slow revealing of Rebecca’s nature, and the unnamed narrator’s stumbling journey from ignorance to knowledge. Du Maurier had a natural understanding of human frailties, and a natural ability to write those frailties into her characters, creating a set of people with distinct and rounded personalities who are as true and valid today as they were when the book was written in 1938.

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

Graham Greene is my favourite author. I could never spend time on a desert island without at least one of his books. Greene had the same ability as Du Maurier to understand the darker side of human nature. In Pinkie Brown, he created a classic sociopath before the term was ever invented. I admire Graham Greene’s prose more than any writer I’ve ever read. He was a master of simile and metaphor and understood, as Conan Doyle did, that simple, straightforward language communicates powerfully.