Night Mares by
pbk out May 99
Manda Scott's first novel, Hen's Teeth, was received with rave reviews in the press and shortlisted for the 1977 Orange Prize. I didn't manage to read that novel, and was pleased, therefore, when Night Mares landed on my desk. At last, I would be able to see what everyone was talking about.
Not so, though. They say that second novels are notoriously difficult to write, and Night Mares reads like it might have prompted a few in the writer herself.
Kellen Stewart, who was the heroine of the first novel, is very much in evidence here. She tells us what she does, and narrates the events of the plot in clear, concise, occasionally eloquent language. But she doesn't manage to convey to us who she actually is.
Her friend and patient, Dr Nina Crawford, is a much more complex, though, for this reader, quite unsympathetic, character. Nina Crawford, like the author, is a vet. At the beginning of the novel she seems to be losing her grip. She is suffering from recurring nightmares, and after seemingly routine operations horses are dying of E. Coli endotoxaemia. The stress is so acute that she seems to be heading for a complete nervous breakdown, and may make a serious attempt on her own life.
When one of Kellen Stewart's own horses needs surgery, she is drawn into her friend's tragedy, and I would really like to say at this point, as the dust-jacket claims, that "it soon becomes clear that not only horses' lives are on the line." But this doesn't actually begin to become clear at all until well after the half-way mark of this 300 page novel. And even after reading well past page 200 we are still not quite sure if the novel isn't totally concerned with the clinical practices of modern veterinary surgery.
I don't, necessarily, look for a strong plot in a novel, but when this is missing one does, usually, expect to see some fairly strongly drawn characters. In Night Mares this doesn't happen either. The strongest character is a killer of a cat called Killer, and I absolutely loved her for the short period that she was on the scene. Killer was great; and the last thirty odd pages of the book made me sit up and take notice.
But there wasn't much else here that is memorable. I suspect that many of those people who liked the first novel will be disappointed with this sequel. And perhaps the real Manda Scott will bounce back with her third novel.
- author of the Sam Turner mysteries and one of Britain's most highly acclaimed writers)