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The Echoby Minette Walters
Synopses & Reviews
It was the smell that Mrs. Powell noticed first. Slightly sweet. Slightly unpleasant. She sniffed it on the air one warm June evening as she parked her car in her garage, but she assumed it came from her neighbors' trash can on the other side of the low wall that divided the properties, and did nothing about it. The next morning the smell of decay eddied out from inside when she pulled open the garage doors, and curiosity led her to poke amongst the stack of boxes at the back after she had reversed her car onto the driveway. Certainly, she didn't expect to find a corpse. If she expected anything it was that someone had abandoned their rubbish in there, and it shocked her badly to find a dead man huddled on sheets of flattened cardboard in the corner, his head slumped on his knees.
There was a flutter of media interest in the story, largely because of where the man was found--within the boundaries of an exclusive private estate bordering the Thames in London's old docklands--and because the pathologist gave cause of death as malnutrition. That a man should have died of starvation in one of the wealthiest parts of one of the wealthiest capitals of the world as the twentieth century drew to a close was irresistible to most journalists, even more so when they learned from the police that he had passed away beside a huge freezer filled with food. The rat pack arrived in force.
But they were to be disappointed. Mrs. Powell was a reluctant interviewee and had already vanished from her house. Nor was there anyone to flesh out the dead man's life and make it worth writing about. He was one of the army of homeless who haunted the streets of London, an alcoholic without family or friends, whose fingerprints were recorded under the name of Billy Blake as a result of a handful of convictions for petty thieving. Among London's policemen he had a small reputation as a street preacher from his habit of shouting aggressively at passersby about forthcoming doom and destruction whenever he was drunk, but as none of them had ever listened closely to his incoherent ramblings, nothing was added to their knowledge of the man through what he had preached. The only curious fact about him was that he had lied about his age when first arrested in 1991. The police had him on file as sixty-five; the pathologist's estimate, as officially recorded at the inquest, was forty-five.
Mrs. Powell's involvement in this bizarre tragedy was that she owned the garage in which Billy had died. However, he preyed upon her mind following her return two weeks later after the morbid press interest had died down and, because she could afford it, she put up the money for his cremation when the coroner finally released the body. She had no need to do it--as in other areas of social welfare, the trappings of death were covered by a state benefit--but she seemed to feel an obligation to her uninvited guest. She chose the second cheapest package offered, and presented herself at the crematorium on the due date at the due time. As she had expected, she and the vicar were the only people there, the undertaker's men having left after depositing the coffin on the rollers. It was a somewhat harrowing service, conducted to the accompaniment of taped music. Elvis Presley sang Amazing Grace over the sound system at the beginning, the vicar and she struggled through the service and the responses together, (while worrying independently if Billy
When Billy Blake, a homeless alcoholic, turns up dead from starvation in the garage of wealthy Amanda Powell, Amanda, obsessed with her dead visitor, joins forces with cynical reporter Michael Deacon to uncover the truth. Reprint. 15,000 first printing.
The broadcast of the brilliant film adaptations of her novels on Showcase has crowned Minette Walters the new queen of British mystery writers. Her career has been little short of astonishing: With her debut novel, The Ice House, she won the British Crime Writers' Association John Creasey Award for the best first crime novel of 1992. Her second mystery, The Sculptress, won the U.S. Edgar Allan Poe Award for the best crime novel published in 1993. In 1994, she achieved a unique triple when The Scold's Bridle was awarded the CWA Gold Dagger for the best crime novel of the year. Her fourth novel, The Dark Room, received further critical acclaim when it appeared in 1995. The Echo, her fifth novel, was said by many reviewers to be her best, most intriguing mystery to date. Her sixth novel, The Breaker, was similarly praised and her seventh, The Shape of Snakes, was published to rave reviews. Minette Walters lives in Dorset, England. www.minettewalters.co.uk
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