This is the book that really hooked me into the genre of British crime mysteries. I read it when I was 14 and then immediately read it again. It remains one of my favourite books to this day.
The story revolves around heiress and photographer Jane 'Jinx' Kingsley, who awakes from a coma after an attempted suicide attempt with amnesia. She's told her fiancé broke off her engagement so he could marry her best friend and now the two of them are missing. Under pressure from the police, Jinx tries to piece together her fragmented memories to figure out what really happened and if she's capable of murder.
I love the style of writing, how Jinx's narrative is interspersed with newspaper clippings and police reports that contradict Jinx's memories. The ending leaves the reader wanting more, still seeking answers. Minette Walters is a master at painting a beautiful picture and then stripping the layers away until you find the dirty, dark underpainting at the bottom.
She awoke one night with fear sucking the breath from her lungs. She opened her eyes and strained them into the blackness. She was in a dark room – her dark room? – and she wasn't alone. Someone – something? – prowled the shadows beyond her vision.
Fear . . . fear . . . FEAR . . .
She sat bolt upright, sweat pouring down her back, screams issuing in a tumult of sound from gaping mouth.
Light flooded the room. Comfort came in the shape of a woman's soft breasts, strong arms and sweet voice. 'There, there, Jane. It's all right. Come on, love, calm down. You had a nightmare.'
But she knew that was wrong. Her terror was real. There was something in the dark room with her. 'My name's Jinx,' she whispered. 'I'm a photographer, and this isn't my room.' She laid her shaven head against the starched white uniform and knew the bitterness of defeat. There would be no more sweet dreams. 'Where am I?' she asked. 'Who are you? Why am I here?'
'You're in the Nightingale Clinic in Salisbury,' said the nurse, 'and I'm Sister Gordon. You were in a car accident but you're safe now. Let's see if we can get you back to sleep again.'
Jinx allowed herself to be tucked back under the sheets by a firm pair of hands. 'You won't turn the light off, will you?' she begged. 'I can't see in the dark.'
- Chapter 2, The Dark Room by Minette Walters
If you enjoy The Dark Room, I suggest reading Minette Walter's other earlier novels: The Ice House, The Scold's Bridle and The Sculptress. All of these books focus on strong and complicated women. I'm not a fan of her later work, but these four books are ones that I re-read quite a bit. If you're interested, the BBC made films of these books. I don't know how easy they'd be to find. I've only seen The Ice House (with Daniel Craig!) but maybe they've been digitized and are more accessible now.