Thursday, 3 July 2008

The Ice House

The Ice House is the title of one of the outstanding debut crime novels of the 1990s. It was the award-winning mystery that set Minette Walters on the path to fame and fortune. I read the book shortly after it was published – the year after my own first novel came out – and I was impressed. I rather assumed that Walters would use it as the starting point for a series, but she confounded my expectations by following it with a stand-alone, The Sculptress, which was even better.

But what was an ice house? The answer is that it was a cold store used in the days before the advent of the refrigerator. There are the remains of a couple not far from where I live. One is in the grounds of the now vanished Marbury Hall (top photo.) The other, rather different, is in the grounds of Lymm Hall (lower photos.)

The Lymm Hall ice house was used in the eighteenth century. Blocks of ice wer cut and stored in it, between layers of straw. The roof of the ice house was covered with a thick layer of soil which acted as insulation. The ice house fell into disuse and was partially dismantled, but the remains are interesting to look at – and dangerous to fall into.


Juliet said...

Fascinating pics. The only ice house I've been inside is the one at Kentwell Hall in Suffolk Next time I go I must take my camera (though it may not be open to visitors much longer as I believe they intend to get it fully operational again). I really enjoyed Walters' novel, too.

Anonymous said...


Many, I believe, are like you and think of MW's debut The Ice House, as it was in fact. I am different, engrained in being so and love the fact.
To all reading, if you have not read anything from Minette Walters before, I strongly recommend The Scold's Bridle, her third novel, as a start.

It was my introduction to MW and had me gripped for a lifetime of reading from this author, I hope and anticipate. I had just returned from 18 mths in Canada where I'd cottoned onto the wonderful crime fiction scene through Cornwell's Post Mortem in particular, along with other great US crime writers. But PM from PC made my guide.

MW in the UK took me into a different dimension. The clinical was gone. The psychological was now. And what the hell was a scold's bridle? Was I naive? Not so much after reading that novel. Did I at 30+ want to read about the life of an old woman? Yes, I did. Why such cruelty and pain? Why?

Did I really know my own country that well? Obviously not and as soon as I finished The Scold's Bridle I was back at the bookshop in my lunchtime to buy the backlist in pb.

In writing, neither The Sculptress nor The Ice House had the same impact on me as The Scold's Bridle.

As for TV, sadly I don't think The Scold's Bridle ever made it. The Ice House did and what do I remember of that? A blonde actress - name forgotten, as I am bad with names, but she was blonde and became an author in the noughties - along with Trudi Styler(also blonde and the second Mrs Sting). But that's it.

The Sculptress? So well played by Pauline Quirke, who up till that point had been only comedy on our screens. She redefined "creepy" and was well worth every accolade she received. She proved herself to be an actress and not just a sitcom queen.

The script for The Scultpress was by Reg Gadney who deserves this mention for a great TV adaptation.

Today, an author has to hook the shoals with the first novel or forget it; there's no (with publisher) time or active publisher budget to develop. In the early 90s it was different.

Minette's first three novels, in my mind, struggle and compete for the "best" and "most worthy" in recognition of her making it big - as she well deserved.

For me, The Scold's Bridle was the tops; The Sculptress an enlightenment and orignal topic for its time; The Ice House as bland and unmemorable as the straw-topped dollies who took to the boards for a TV series.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading this book when it first came out (in paperback) and very much enjoying it. I don't remember The Sculptress though I know I have read it (as I've read all Minette Walters) but I do recall The Scold's Bridle as that was a tad on the grisly/sado side for me.

The Ice House, when I read it and again on reading your post, reminded me of the "hay box". When I was a child there was a book I must have read more than once, I can't remember the title or author, but I do recall the "hay box". The theme had to do with children living in a house without parents, and having to convince "the authorities" that they could cope on their own. The capable if slightly bossy eldest one (my role in life, unfortunately) was taught to use a haybox to keep the meals hot for when all the siblings got home from school. Hence they could cope without adult supervision, very wise too.

So is there something about these pre-electric devices for keeping food hot or cold that have a universal appeal? I don't know, but I love these ingenious pre-electric, simple machines that can perform such basic, elemental tasks. Well done to Minette Walters (and my unremembered author) for tapping into that.

Anonymous said...

The Scold's Bridle did make to the TV screen, as far as I remember with Kate Winslet's sister in one of the rolse...

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for all these comments. Sanne, I'm sure you're right and that The Scold's Bridle was televised, though I must admit I don't remember much about it now.