The Ice Twins by SK Tremayne
We all know that sinister children are a favourite motif of horror and psychological thriller writers, and we all know that if there's one thing scarier than a sinister child, it's sinister twin children. In The Ice Twins, SK Tremayne makes a pair of identical twin girls with a dark secret the focus of the entire plot.
Sarah and Angus, a well-off, hitherto remarkably smug middle-class couple, are planning to move to a all-but-derelict lighthouse-keeper's cottage on a remote Scottish island of the coast of the Isle of Skye, inherited from Angus' grandmother. Their move is partly because they are facing bankruptcy and can use the money from the sale of their London home to renovate and sell the cottage at a profit, but they have another motive: a fresh start after the sudden death of one of their twin daughters, Lydia, in an accident a year previously.
Despite the barely-habitable state of the cottage, accessible only by dinghy for most of the day or a difficult walk across mudflats at low tide, Sarah feels positive about the move - until Kirstie, their surviving seven-year-old daughter, suddenly makes an astonishing claim. She isn't Kirstie at all. She's Lydia.
Could it really be that Angus and Sarah have been mourning the wrong twin all along? Or is Kirstie so bereft by the loss of Lydia that she is becoming delusional? Or, as Sarah watches her daughter talking in Kirstie and Lydia's 'twin language' to an unseen presence, is something even more disturbing going on?
The biggest strength of The Ice Twins is its clever premise, which needless to say is the perfect foundation for a gripping psychological thriller. It is not only packed with suspense but also genuinely unsettling at times, full of uncertainty. Plus, the Hebridean setting is beautifully and accurately described, giving the story an atmospheric backdrop. I know this part of the world very well, and the author gets it absolutely right.
The novel is narrated primarily in the first person by Sarah, with a few sections in the third person fro Angus' point of view. The unreliability of Sarah as a narrator is hinted at throughout, and I'm not sure if we're actually supposed to like her or not (I disliked her almost instantly and continued to do so throughout, although I don't think that necessarily mattered). Both Angus and Sarah do have a touch of the identikit about them; it's their situation, not them or even their relationship, that is interesting. I would have liked a little more depth in both characters.
I have another issue with this book, although it's difficult to discuss it in any meaningful way without giving away the end: all I will say is that it's a problem I have with a lot of books in this genre and that it relates to stereotyping of women and their emotional responses to trauma. Sort it out, please, writers of twist-in-the-tale psychological thrillers.*
Overall, though, The Ice Twins is an easy, entertaining, creepy, extremely gripping page-turner that most people would find hard to put down.
*The book's author bio notes that SK Tremayne is a pen name of a well-known journalist, who already writes novels in another genre under another, undisclosed, pseudonym. It also carefully and deliberately avoids revealing whether SK Tremayne is a man or a woman. If SK Tremayne is not a man, however, I will eat every hat I own.