The Ice Twins by S. K. Tremayne

Not only were Kirstie & Lydia absolutely physically indistinguishable six-year-old Identical twins, but one of them is dead – killed in a fall from a window – & their parents Sarah & Angus don’t know which one’s the survivor. They were sure that it was Kirstie, but now the child insists she is really Lydia, an Identification seconded by the family dog. To make things even more difficult for the anxious parents, financial circumstances have forced them to sell-up & move from London to a remote abandoned lighthouse-keeper’s cottage on an Island off the coast of Scotland. (Not long ago I heard an ad on local radio offering ‘lighthouse keeping’ – something I’d not realised we’d much need for here in Iowa. What a disappointment to find it was an ad for a home-health-care service & that the speaker apparently was trying to pronounce ‘light housekeeping’!) Other children @ the local Gaelic-English bilingual school perceive there is something distinctly wrong with the little girl & think she is some kind of a ghost. Sarah is frantic to discover who her daughter actually is & what really happened to her sister?

The Ice Twins is a brilliant novel of suspense; I think the best I’ve read so far this year. What made this story particularly fascinating was forming so many hypotheses that fit the facts plausibly, including: (1) After her sister was killed in an accidental fall, extreme grief led her twin to adopt her identity & mannerisms. (2) One twin killed the other by pushing her out the window, acting out of jealousy. (Angus favoured Kirstie, Sarah Lydia.) (3) Kirstie was a victim of sexual abuse by Angus, who was fond of caressing her. (4) The ghost of the dead twin is haunting her surviving sister & traces of her ghostly presence can be sensed by Sarah & by other children. (5) Sarah is an extremely unreliable 1st-person narrator, having been on meds, been unfaithful to Angus, & is possibly delusional. We should distrust anything she says. (6) Angus is drinking heavily & is given to fits of uncontrollable anger & may be dangerous.

These are not mutually exclusive: there could be possession by the ghost of a dead child who was sexually abused, & murdered by . . . etc. All could be true. Or some other explanation entirely. That is one of the things that kept me drawn to this book, its sheer ambiguity. Is it a family drama? A crime story about an abused &/or murdered child? A story about a spouse suffering a breakdown? A gothic set in a haunted house in an eerie romantic setting? A tale of supernatural possession? All of the above?

Usually an author’s trying to work too many genres simultaneously leads to artistic failure because each has its own rules. Many readers of ‘realistic fiction’ cannot abide the presence of the paranormal whereas ghosts are part of the furniture in supernatural fiction. Do we have to explain them away as products of the narrator’s disturbed psyche to take a book seriously? Definitely not in my case but if you do, you should still enjoy this book – Sarah’s psyche is indeed pretty disturbed – & be unable to put it down if only to find out how it is going to turn out. The style & the dialogue are excellent as well. I especially loved the Glasgow child psychologist. Tremayne treads the lines between the various genres so delicately as not to put a foot wrong. there is just the right mix of spooky stuff, of family dynamics, & of the effects of grief @ a high level of acuity. Also a great supporting cast of Scottish boatmen to pull you literally out of the muck & excellent taste in whisky.

When you have read a really good book in a particular genre, your perceptions become sharper, & you enjoy other good books like it even more than before. So if you enjoy The Ice Twins, you might like Niki Valentine’s novels The Haunted & Possessed – both deal with some similar situations & subjects, the latter featuring adult twins.

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