Ice Trap – Kitty Sewell

This review was prepared for and also appears at Eurocrime.

Icetrap Kitty Sewell’s Ice Trap was originally published by Honno in 2005 and was shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year 2006 and The Crime Writer’s Association New Blood Dagger 2006 (for first books by previously unpublished writers).  The novel returns to the shelves in paperback format from Simon and Schuster’s imprint Pocket Books.

Ice Trap is a novel of psychological suspense and it draws on a personal experience of Sewell’s own husband, with the type of experience that ripples out through families with possibly devastating results.  In respect of the psychological suspense element, Sewell has a background as a psychotherapist and “agony aunt”, so the novel is quick and assured in seeking out emotions and motivations.

In a nutshell: Dr Dafydd Woodruff, a Cardiff based surgeon is happily married to his interior designer wife Isabel.  Just one thing stands in their way in order to tick the final box on the list that is “family happiness”; they want to start a family, but the odds are against them.

Following a prologue, the novel opens with Dr and Mrs Woodruff in the bedroom and in the marital bed, in the early hours of the morning, to be precise.  Isabel’s continued keenness to start their family is swiftly rebuffed by Dafydd’s realisation that the love of union and creation of another life has simply become a perfunctory act pursuing the goal of conception.  In Dafydd’s eyes, this is no longer an expression of love between them; it’s worse than a Saturday morning shop at Tesco’s.

And it gets worse for the Woodruffs.  Out of the blue, Dafydd receives a letter from a thirteen year old girl in Canada. She claims to be his daughter and mentions a twin brother.  In the letter she’s very charming and, having been told he’s her “dad”, wants to meet him and wants to get to know her “dad”.  Dafydd on the other hand, knowing who the alleged mother is and disputing with full force the possibility that he fathered this woman’s children, seeks a DNA test to disprove his alleged paternity.

And then comes the start of real nastiness, depending on who you believe: Dafydd is confirmed as the father in the DNA tests.  He remains beset on proving his innocence; Isabel has doubts that lead her to concentrate on her career; but most of all, Dafydd must revisit his troubled past to deal with his present and his future.  His whole life starts to unravel…

The ongoing suspense and mystery within this novel revolve around Dafydd’s paternity dilemma.  We want to believe him, but the facts say firmly otherwise. That is what drives this story onwards.  Is Dafydd an innocent victim or a liar, as his wife suspects?

Sewell was born in Sweden, educated in Spain and later, lived in Canada’s North West Territories where part of this novel is set.  She now divides her time between south Wales and Spain.  Sewell knows her settings well and can bring them to life.

This novel is also strong on characterisation and emotional motivation.  But when it comes to plot and psychological suspense, the novel is just a little too long.  It’s hard to continue reading to the end at a normal pace; there is a great temptation to skim in order to find out the answer to the “Is he or isn’t he?” question.  This, however, is mitigated by a nice twist.

Overall, this is a good suspenseful read and those who love the novels of Minette Walters would certainly enjoy it.

Sewell’s latest novel was launched on Feb 8, 2007 in Cardiff.  Here, she leaves the genre, writing as “Kitty Harri” for the novel Hector’s Talent for Miracles published by Honno.  But she will return to the crime/thriller genre with her next novel, she says.

[You can listen to a short interview with Sewell about Ice Trap and her inspiration for the novel, on BBC Radio Four’s Woman’s Hour, here.]