ICE TRAP - Kitty Sewell
Dafydd Woodruff was a very young surgeon when he made a nearly fatal mistake on the operating table. Shaken to the core by this event, he takes a locum position in the northern Canada wilderness to recover from his guilt and reassess. He spends a year in Moose Creek - just enough time to experience the frontier style life.
Fifteen years later, Dafydd is a consultant surgeon in Wales, trying to start a family with his wife, the marriage struggling under the pressure of infertility, when he receives a letter from Moose Creek. The letter is from a young girl who says she believes she, and her twin brother, are his children. Their mother, Sheila, is the head nurse at Moose Creek, but Dafydd is adamant that he was never involved with her, despite a blood test result that shows that one of the twins is definitely his son.
ICE TRAP moves between current day Cardiff, Moose Creek in 1992, and then Moose Creek again in current time as Dafydd goes back to see the children despite his confusion about how they could be his. Much of ICE TRAP is about watching Daffyd deal with his own life. In his early time in Moose Creek he's learning to deal with a world about as foreign to him as you could possibly get. When he returns after 15 years, he's dealing with the crumbling, remoteness of his marriage; the different reactions of the twin children that he can't remember fathering; the antagonism of their mother Sheila; the disintegration of the local doctor that had helped him so much in his earlier years; the changes in other friends and contacts and even in the town itself.
In ICE TRAP the crime element is fraud, deception and theft. The community of Moose Creek is a small, isolated, insulated community with a lot of secrets and past baggage being dragged around. This change in focus from the more traditional crime story involving murder, kidnapping or personal threat of some kind makes for a significantly different styling. One of the major impacts of this is that the story moves very very slowly, taking a considerable part of the book to fill in the back story and then the current circumstances of Dafydd's time in Moose Creek before getting to any indication of the extent of the crimes. The other impact is that the story is all about Dafydd - it's seen through his eyes and because he is ultimately a victim of those events, it's self-involved, even self-indulgent in some places.
Not having a traditional form of crime / investigation / solution is not a barrier to having a good book, in fact, if handled well it provides a difference in approach that is extremely refreshing. Whilst there were some good elements of that change in approach in ICE TRAP there are also elements that let the book down. The focus on the central character of Dafydd, in the role of victim, did get a bit tedious after a while. There were some inconsistencies in how he was reacting to the disintegration of his marriage and the amount of space in the book that the subject got - that element of the storyline could have been tightened up and given a more realistic feeling. The true story of the fathering of the children was pretty well telegraphed early on in the book and it wouldn't have hurt to bring out the truth of the goings on in Moose Creek earlier to keep the interest level higher. Throughout the book, there are a number of points where the reader's attention is allowed to wander with nothing much being revealed and the story going nowhere. Towards the end of the book when the full story of the people and the town is being revealed and Dafydd is forced into taking some positive steps towards answering his own questions about the parentage of the children and the circumstances around their mother and the local hospital personnel; the pace picks up, the story becomes more interesting and the reader's attention is more firmly held.
At the start of Sewell's intriguing if uneven debut, Dafydd Woodruff, a surgeon in present-day Cardiff, Wales, receives a letter from a 13-year-old girl claiming to be his daughter and to have a twin brother. Flashback 14 years to Moose Creek, a tiny outpost in Canada's Northwest Territories, where Dafydd took a year-long post to clear his conscience after botching the surgery of a young boy in Wales. In that isolated community, Dafydd met Sheila Hailey, an acerbic head nurse, who would later accuse him of fathering her twins. Predictably, Dafydd returns to Moose Creek after learning that the DNA test he demanded proves he's the father of Sheila's children. In his bumbling efforts to unearth the truth about the past, the empathetic Dafydd stumbles on long-buried town secrets. Despite her unusual locale and a strong supporting cast, Sewell is less sure at creating suspense, often stretching out moments of little narrative importance and skimming over others that later prove vital. Still, readers will find this first novel, which was shortlisted for the CWA's New Blood Dagger Award, compulsively readable.