The Ice Twins by S K Tremayne (pbk)

Reviewed by Annabel

ice-twinsI love a good thriller or psychological drama , but in order for one to truly hit the spot it has 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 more on that later. 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 discreet 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 owns 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, 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 – on an island…

Picking up her remaining daughter 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?’

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 that for time being 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 is 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.

One question remains. Is author S K Tremayne male or female? The book’s cover intriguingly gender-free.  Having dug around to find out the answer, I’m not going to share it with you, instead I’ll ask – does it matter? SNB logo tiny

Annabel is one of the editors of Shiny New Books and wouldn’t like to live on a remote island – day trips only!

S K Tremayne,  The Ice Twins (Harper Books: London, 2015) I9780007459223, 384 pp., paperback.

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