Fox Evil

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Overview

Minette Walters's ninth novel, Fox Evil, set in the seemingly bucolic English countryside, establishes a blistering new standard for contemporary suspense.

When elderly Ailsa Lockyer-Fox is found dead in her garden, dressed only in nightclothes and with bloodstains on the ground near her body, the finger of suspicion points at her wealthy husband, Colonel James Lockyer-Fox. A coroner's investigation deems it death by natural causes, but the ...

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Overview

Minette Walters's ninth novel, Fox Evil, set in the seemingly bucolic English countryside, establishes a blistering new standard for contemporary suspense.

When elderly Ailsa Lockyer-Fox is found dead in her garden, dressed only in nightclothes and with bloodstains on the ground near her body, the finger of suspicion points at her wealthy husband, Colonel James Lockyer-Fox. A coroner's investigation deems it death by natural causes, but the gossip surrounding James refuses to go away.

Friendless and alone, James and his reclusive behavior begins to alarm his attorney, whose concern deepens when he discovers that his client has become the victim of a relentless campaign accusing him of far worse than the death of his wife. James is unwilling to fight the allegations, choosing instead to devote his energies to a desperate search for the illegitimate granddaughter who may prove his savior as he battles for his name-and his life.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
In Acid Row, Minette Walters masterfully crafted a run-down urban hellhole for her setting; with Fox Evil she proves herself equally adept at creating the pastoral milieu of a tiny Dorset village. For her ninth psychological thriller, the top-notch crime writer offers another thoroughly compelling cast of characters, including retired colonel James Lockyer-Fox, whose wife has died mysteriously; Captain Nancy Smith, his biological granddaughter, who was adopted hours after her birth 28 years ago; and Fox Evil, the leader of a band of new age "travellers" who believe they're squatting on a few acres of unclaimed village land in order to establish a legal ownership of the property. (It quickly becomes clear that the travellers are merely pawns in Evil's larger game.) As that story unfolds, Lockyer-Fox's solicitor, Mark Ankerton, sets out to stop a series of malicious phone calls his client has been receiving but soon finds himself entangled in a twisted scheme that involves the late Mrs. Lockyer-Fox and Evil -- a plot that has already caused one death. Although the stakes aren't as high as those in Acid Row (where the lives of thousands were at risk in a riot), Walters builds narrative tension every bit as high in Fox Evil, with a tightly woven plot that keeps you entranced by details of her characters' lives and actions -- and keeps you guessing at every turn. Sue Stone
The New York Times
Leaving the placid charms of the bucolic English countryside to fainter-hearted writers, Minette Walters takes on the grimmer aspects of rural life in Fox Evil -- the gossip of vicious neighbors, the hostilities between fox-hunting gentry and professional saboteurs, the encroachment of New Age travelers on private land, along with the usual domestic crimes of adultery, incest and child abuse. Walters packs all this, plus a crazed killer, into an overwrought but disturbing tale about a proud family that would rather die out than give up its shameful secrets. — Marilyn Stasio
Publishers Weekly
Walters (The Ice House; The Sculptress; Acid Row) is considered by many to be the preeminent crime novelist writing in England today. This psychological thriller, her ninth novel, should satisfy both aficionados of the traditional English cozy and readers who prefer mysteries with a grimmer edge. Walters's dark drama unfolds in the tiny Dorset village of Shenstead, where Col. James Lockyer-Fox's wife, Ailsa, dressed only in flimsy nightclothes and boots, has been found dead on the terrace of Shenstead Manor. A coroner's jury declares James not guilty, but a telephone harassment campaign by unknown persons accuses him not only of the murder but other heinous crimes as well. This unrelenting pressure drives the colonel into a deep and debilitating depression. London solicitor Mark Ankerton steps in to prove his friend James innocent and to clear up the question of just what Ailsa was doing locked out of the house on a freezing night in her underwear and Wellies. His investigation leads him to a nearby group of Travelers-modern-day gypsies who roam the countryside in converted buses-who are squatting on unclaimed land, attempting to seize the property. The Travelers are led by the monstrously evil Fox, whose own agenda is much more complicated than a simple desire for free real estate. Award winner Walters rounds out her novel with several subplots, including confrontations between fox hunters and hunt saboteurs and other small scandals of rural life, all tied in the end to the resolution of the story. The writer's many fans will thoroughly enjoy this hefty, stand-alone mystery, but psychological thriller readers who are more interested in thrills than psychology may find the going a bit too slow and the eventual denouement too complicated by half. (May) Forecast: A national author tour, the success of Walters's past books and her firmly established fan base will lead to solid sales, if not bestseller status. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Nancy Smith, the adopted 28-year-old daughter of loving, well-to-do farmers, has graduated from Oxford and is an engineer in the British army. She is initially wary when the attorney representing her aristocratic birth grandfather, James Lockyer-Fox, approaches her. After she finally meets her grandfather, Nancy learns that her grandmother has died under questionable circumstances and that her grandfather is being harassed nightly with accusatory telephone calls. Meanwhile, a caravan of transients headed by a mysterious man called Fox Evil has taken up residence in a field near her grandfather's manor. This cruel man, who is terrorizing his ten-year-old son, Wolfie, speaks with an upper-class accent and is suspiciously familiar with the family at the manor. After building suspense, Walters (Acid Row) ties up loose ends rather summarily in the last few pages. Still, her ninth novel has an intricate and absorbing plot and features two likable and resilient lead characters. Recommended for most public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/03.]-Jane la Plante, Minot State Univ. Lib., ND Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Four or five times a week, in the dead of night, when the phone rings up at the Manor House, elderly James Lockyer-Fox, a retired colonel, hears nothing but deep breathing--or a rant about how he killed his wife Ailsa, who froze to death outside the locked Manor doors. Although he’s been exonerated by the Crown, someone who clearly demurs is butchering foxes and his dog and leaving their flesh on his steps. It’s possible this is the work of a band of travelers led by the abusive Fox Evil, squatting on the land bordering his and laying claim to it, but the colonel and his late wife had also roused the enmity of a pair of village women who felt snubbed by them and by their housekeeper, whom they’d accused of stealing. Besieged, isolated, and estranged from his ne’er-do-well son Leo and his debauched daughter Elizabeth, who may be exacting revenge on him for his emotional coldness, the increasingly frail and despondent colonel instructs his one ally, solicitor Mark Ankerton, to find the illegitimate daughter Elizabeth was forced to give up years ago. Unfortunately, the appearance of granddaughter Nancy Smith, now a captain in the Royal Engineers, engenders new tribulations: rumors of incest. What exactly is the colonel guilty of? Beneath the red herrings, Walters’s real focus is parental brutality, and readers will long remember the harrowing treatment of young Wolfie, Fox Evil’s ward, and Leo, the dissolute victim of diminished expectations. Those images nearly compensate for a plot that Walters (Acid Row, 2002, etc.) wraps up more with a dispiritingly mundane air.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425194508
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 2/3/2004
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 4.26 (w) x 6.82 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author

Minette Walters

Minette Walters is the author of eight previous novels, including Acid Row, named one of Publishers Weekly's Best Novels of 2002. Her work has been translated into thirty-two languages.

Good To Know

In our interview with Walters, she shared some fascinating facts about her interests, hobbies, and favorite ways to unwind:

"I've been married for nearly 25 years, have two sons, lead a very contented life in the wilds of Dorset with horses, chickens, dogs, sheep, and write some of the darkest psychological mysteries you'll ever read! I've been described as a woman ‘whose imagination makes her dangerous to know'!"

"I have spent a great deal of time in prison over the last 14 years -- both as a prison visitor, public speaker, and teaching assistant. While I have never used any individual's case as the basis for a book, I have learned a great deal about prisoners' backgrounds and what leads them to prison. The reasons tend to be similar -- dysfunctional family life, minimal parenting, early truanting, poor literacy levels, low self-esteem, no anger-management skills, difficulty relating to others -- and many of these issues are reflected in my novels."

"My major hobby and the way I always unwind is to decorate my house while listening to the many excellent BBC stations on the radio. As a news junkie, my favorites are Radio 4 and Radio 5 -- some of whose material can be accessed via the Internet or on the BBC World Service. Enjoy, if you can find them!"

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    1. Hometown:
      Dorchester, Dorset, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 26, 1949
    2. Place of Birth:
      Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, England
    1. Education:
      B.A. in French, Dunelm (Durham University), 1971
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

JUNE 2001

THE FOX SLIPPED QUIETLY through the night in search of food, with only the occasional flash of his white-tipped brush flagging his presence. The scent of a badger set his nose quivering, and he skirted the piece of track where the territorial marker had been laid. A shy, nervous creature, he had more sense than to cross the path of a voracious fighter with powerful jaws and poisonous teeth.

He had no such fear of the smell of burning tobacco. It spoke to him of bread and milk for himself, and pieces of chicken for his vixen and her cubs-easier plunder than a nighttime's wearisome hunting for voles and field mice. Ever suspicious, he stood for several minutes, watching and listening for alien movement. There was none. Whoever was smoking was as quiet and still as he. Finally, in trustful response to the Pavlovian stimulus, he crept toward the familiar smell, unaware that a rolled cigarette was different from the pipe he was used to.

The illegal trap, a maiming device of metal teeth, sprang shut on his delicate foreleg with the biting power of a huge badger, tearing the flesh and snapping the bone. He screamed in pain and anger, lashing at the empty night in search of his imagined adversary. For all his supposed cunning, he hadn't been clever enough to recognize that the motionless figure beside a tree bore no resemblance to the patient old man who regularly fed him.

The woodland burst with sound in response to his terror. Birds fluttered on their perches, nocturnal rodents scurried into hiding. Another fox-perhaps his vixen-barked an alarm from across the field. As the figure turned toward him, drawing a hammer from his coat pocket, the shaved tracks in the mane of hair must have suggested a bigger, stronger foe than the fox could cope with, because he ceased his screaming and dropped in whimpering humility to his belly. But there was no mercy in the deliberate crushing of his little pointed muzzle before the trap was forced open and, still alive, his brush was sliced from his body with a cut-throat razor.

His tormentor spat his cigarette to the ground and mashed it under his heel before tucking the brush in his pocket and seizing the animal by its scruff. He slipped as quietly through the trees as the fox had done earlier, coming to a halt at the edge of the woods and melting into the shadow of an oak. Fifty feet away, across the ha-ha ditch, the old man was on his feet on the terrace, staring toward the treeline, a shotgun leveled at shoulder height toward his unseen watcher. The backwash from the lights inside his open French windows showed his face grim with anger. He knew the cry of an animal in pain, knew that its abrupt cessation meant the creature's jaw had been smashed. He should have done. This wasn't the first time a broken body had been tossed at his feet.

He never saw the whirl of the black-sleeved, black-gloved arm as it lobbed the dying fox toward him, but he caught the streaks of white as the tumbling paws flashed in the lamplight. With murder in his heart he aimed below them and fired both barrels.

DORSET ECHO, SATURDAY, 25 AUGUST 2001

TRAVELER INVASION

THE ROLLING DOWNLAND of Dorset's Ridgeway has become home to the largest illegal caravan park in the country's history. Police estimate that some 200 mobile homes and over 500 gypsies and travelers have gathered at scenic Barton Edge for an August Bank Holiday rave.

From the windows of Bella Preston's psychedelic bus, the soon-to-be-designated World Heritage site of Dorset's Jurassic coastline unfolds in all its glory. To the left, the majestic cliffs of Ringstead Bay, to the right the stunning crag of Portland Bill, ahead the dazzling blue of the English Channel.

"This is the best view anywhere in England," says Bella, 35, cuddling her three daughters.

"The kids love it. We always try to spend our summers here." Bella, a single mother from Essex, who describes herself as a "social worker," was one of the first to arrive. "The rave was proposed when we were at Stonehenge for the solstice in June. Word spread quickly, but we hadn't expected so many."

Dorset police were alerted when an abnormal number of traveler-style vehicles entered the county yesterday morning. Roadblocks were set up along the routes leading to Barton Edge in an attempt to stop the invasion. The result was a series of jams, some five miles long, that angered locals and bona fide tourists who were caught in the net. With the travelers' vehicles unable to turn around in the confined space of the narrow Dorset lanes, the decision was taken to allow the gathering to happen.

Farmer Will Harris, 58, whose fields have been taken over by the illegal encampment, is angered by police and local authority impotence to act. "I've been told I'll be arrested if I provoke these people," he fumed. "They're destroying my fences and crops, but if I complain and someone gets hurt then it's my fault. Is that justice?"

Sally Macey, 48, Traveler Liaison Officer for the local authority, said last night that the travelers had been served with a formal notice to quit. She agreed that the serving of notices was a game. "Travelers operate on the basis that seven days is the usual length of stay," she said. "They tend to move on just before the order comes into effect. In the meantime we ask them to refrain from intimidatory behavior and to ensure that their rubbish is disposed of in nominated sites."

This cut no ice with Mr. Harris who pointed to the sacks of litter dumped at the entrance to his farm. "This will be all over the place tomorrow when the foxes get at these bags. Who's going to pay for the cleanup? It cost a farmer £10,000 to clear his land in Devon after an encampment half this size."

Bella Preston expressed sympathy. "If I lived here I wouldn't like it either. Last time we held a rave of this size, 2000 teens came from the local towns to join in. I'm sure it will happen again. The music goes on all night and it's pretty loud."

A police spokesman agreed. "We are warning local people that the noise nuisance will last throughout the weekend. Unfortunately there is little we can do in these situations. Our priority is to avoid unnecessary confrontation." He confirmed that an influx of youngsters from Bournemouth and Weymouth was likely. "A free open-air rave is a big draw. Police will be on hand, but we expect the event to pass off peacefully."

Mr. Harris is less optimistic. "If it doesn't, my farm will be in the middle of a war zone," he said. "There aren't enough policemen in Dorset to shift this lot. They'll have to bring in the army."

--from Fox Evil by Minette Walters, copyright © 2003 Minette Walters, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2003

    Too many 'herrings red'

    I usually don't have to read a book twice simply to understand the story. After the second reading, Fox Evil made more sense, but was still a disappointment. The strong points here are the characters. The relationship between Mark and Nancy really sizzles, and James is quite heroic. The Bartletts and Prue are despicable, as they should be. But the author tries very, very hard to build suspense, and has a hard time settling down at the end and wrapping things up. With all the buildup, the resolution is limp. Ms. Walters is trying to tell several stories here. First comes the standard 'contested will' angle. Then come the murky goings-on between the confused alcoholic daughter and a shadowy figure from her past. So much of the story is about Leo and Elizabeth; yet, we never actually meet them. Elizabeth is talked about, and Leo is a voice on the phone. We have the 'colorful' neighbor women who feed on gossip. The debate over fox-hunting. Child welfare, and the lifestyles of travelers (which, for me, was the most interesting part). Ms. Walters also likes to 'update' her British murder mystery with lots of technology--e-mails, answering machines, cell phones, even voice distorters abound here. Finally, the story violates a lot of basic rules about writing. First and foremost...Show, don't tell. It became absolutely tedious to read page after page of dialogue in which nothing was said for the most part, but in which a key bit of explanation was buried and easily missed by the reader. Having devoured Stephen King's 'On Writing,' I've become attuned to the overuse of adverbs. If a character says 'Bugger all!' it isn't necessary to tell us he said it 'aggressively.' Now, if Ms. Walters had described this utterance as passive, flaccid, or timid, it would lend more interest. Overall, the book was a major disappointment. Hope others in my community like it better; I'm donating it to the local library.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Fantastic

    In the small village of Shenstead, England Colonel James Lockyer-Fox, decorated war hero and ex prisoner of war, mourns the death of his beloved wife. During the funeral, his children ignored him and walked away from him without saying a word to him. This gives rise to rumors that the colonel murdered his wife. After the police question him for two days, the post-mortem proves she died from natural causes and the blood found near her body was that of an animal............................... Some of the villagers think he is guilty no matter what the police says and start harassing him by phone, claiming ugly things about his children and the illegitimate granddaughter that was given away at birth. He believes it is his two children who are out of the will that are supplying the neighbors with information that only they should know. He falls into a deep depression that lifts when he is reunited with his granddaughter who gives him a reason to live. What he doesn¿t know is at least two people living in the village are willing to go to any lengths to destroy him.............................. The queen of Gothic, Minette Walters, has written a fascinating tale that explores the nature of true evil; a story that captures the essence of the human condition when confronted with a person so demonic that the rules of acceptable behavior don¿t apply. There is no hero in this enthralling melodrama, just an ordinary individual trying to survive the death of a loved one and a feeling of being left behind and all alone with no friends to help him................. Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2009

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