The Ice Twins by S K Tremayne
I love a good thriller or psychological drama as you know, but in order to truly hit the spot they have got to be unputdownable, read in as few sessions as possible. The Ice Twins has that quality in spades, even if one of its central premises is slightly preposterous, but let me introduce it to you.
Sarah and Angus are the parents of six year old identical twins, Kirstie and Lydia. So identical in appearance, they couldn’t be told apart.
At first we differentiated our babies by painting one of their respective fingernails, or toenails, yellow or blue. Yellow for Lydia … blue for Kirstie…
This nail-varnishing was a compromise. A nurse at the hospital advised us to have one of the twins tattooed in a discrete place … but we resisted this notion, as it seemed far too drastic, even barbaric: tattooing one of our perfect, innocent, flawless new children? No.
… So we relied on nail varnish, diligently and carefully applied once a week, for a year. After that – until we were able to distinguish them by their distinctive personalities, and by their own responses to their own names – we relied on the differing clothes we gave the girls.
A terrible accident happens. One twin dies falling off the balcony at their grandparents’ house. Lydia was very unlucky not to survive the twenty foot drop.
A year later, having been through enough trauma to last a lifetime, plus Angus having to leave his job after hitting his boss, a lifeline emerges. Angus’ grandmother owned a tiny island off the Isle of Skye, it has an automated lighthouse and a large but decaying cottage. They can sell their London house and move to the island and do up the house. Sarah can write freelance and Angus can become an architect for home extensions. They can make a new life – Angus, Sarah and Kirstie.
Picking up Kirstie from school for the last time before the long drive north, Sarah asks her teacher about Kirstie:
‘Recently I’ve noticed that Kirstie has got a lot better at reading. In a short space of time. It’s a fairly surprising leap. And yet she used to be very good at maths, and now she is … not so good at that’ […]
I say, perhaps, what we are both thinking: ‘Her sister used to be good at reading and not so good at maths?’
This is the first inkling for Sarah, that Kirstie is confused over her identity, compensating perhaps for her missing twin. They move north, and get stuck into renovations. One day Sarah finds Kirstie looking at an old holiday photograph. She is distressed and confused:
‘Which one is me? Mummy? Which one?’
Oh, help. Oh, God. This is unbearable: because I have no answer. The truth is, I do not know. […]
‘Mummy? Mummy? Mummy? Who am I?’ (p95)
Kirstie continues to behave in a confused manner. A few days later, it’s nearly time for her new school – and Kirstie claims that they have got it wrong. She is not Kirstie, she is Lydia. Even the family dog seems to agree. Sarah insists if she thinks she is Lydia, they should call her Lydia.
The strain on all of them rapidly starts to become unbearable, Kirstie/Lydia has a hard time at school, and Sarah and Angus are pushed into opposing positions. There are so many layers of secrets and lies, misunderstandings, skeletons to come out between the couple, not to mention Kirstie/Lydia’s continuing twin separation trauma. It is clear that each parent had a favourite twin too which adds yet another factor into the equation. It is supremely creepy and totally gripping. Narrated mainly by Sarah, it’s hard to tell whether she’s getting more and more paranoid, or as she uncovers details beginning to logically work things out. However, when Angus takes up the story now and then, we are presented with a slightly different picture. The reader’s feelings are constantly tugged one way then the other between the couple, and also over the identity of the surviving twin.
Of course all this is compounded by the move to the isolation of the island – it’s a recipe for disaster! In the normal world, you’d rent on the mainland while builders renovate the house, and then sell the island or rent it out as a holiday home, wouldn’t you? But this is a psychological thriller, and the protagonists never act logically. Angus has only ever been there during summers, many years before. He’s never experienced the storms of a Hebridean autumn, never been stuck on a little rat-infested island in a cold. damp cottage with no mobile signal and only shaky connections to other services.
Each chapter is prefaced by eerie black and white photographs of a lighthouse , a cottage and surrounding views, the monochrome pictures adding eerily to the isolated atmosphere of the island. If you enjoy Sophie Hannah’s convoluted dramas and like a wild Scottish location, then The Ice Twins will be right up your street. (9/10)
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Having discussed the novel above, I want to talk about the author below – beware, spoilers…
The Ice Twins is the first novel by S K Tremayne, however Tremayne is not a debut author. Tremayne is the pseudonym of a successful author who has written a host of other books under their own name and another pseudonym – something authors often do of course, when they write in different genres or for different markets. If I hadn’t done some research, I would have sworn that this novel was written by a woman but, (like S J Watson), Tremayne is male. It’s clever marketing – his bio is gender-free and I bet they didn’t put an author photo on the dustjacket of the hardback, (ironically, the press release does say ‘he’ in one spot – oops!). The paperback cover is also pitched firmly in the same market as cover quoter Sophie Hannah – at least they haven’t stickered it ‘for fans of [… insert current best-selling psychological thriller title here].
Tremayne has written several religious/archaeological thrillers as Tom Knox and, as himself, he wrote a funny blokey-sounding book about his experiences internet dating in his thirties; he used to blog for the Daily Telegraph too. He is Sean Thomas, and he has a famous author father – D M Thomas of The White Hotel etc. Arguably, if this book had been published as by Tom Knox, a calculatedly masculine nom de plume, it would imply a different kind of thriller to The Ice Twins! So I hope he writes some more as S K Tremayne for I enjoyed this one a lot.
Do you like to know whether an author is male or female? Does it affect your reading of a book?
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Source: Publisher – Thank you.
The Ice Twins by S K Tremayne – published by Harper Books (2015) Paperback Sept 3rd, 384 pages.