The Ice Twins
S.K. Tremayne
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Buy *The Ice Twins* by S.K. Tremayneonline

The Ice Twins
S.K. Tremayne
Grand Central Publishing
320 pages
May 2015
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Sarah and Angus Moorcroft want to escape from the bustle of London to live in Angus’s deceased grandmother’s cottage on Skye’s Torran Island, perched on the edge of Scotland’s wild and windswept Outer Hebrides. Given their recent tragic bereavement, it's not surprising that the couple ache to sell their home in Camden and seek to escape from the grief, memories, debts and doubts that have been plaguing them. After the recent death of Lydia, one of their twin daughters, painful weeks and months have passed. Although Torran’s winters are dark--far from the autumn fogs of Bloomsbury--the couple plan to give Kirstie, their remaining daughter, a simpler and perhaps gentler existence in this isolated but beautiful place.

Kirstie has been suffering a confusion unique to twins who lose a co-twin, a sister who was more closely related genetically than to anyone else--even more than her parents. Lately Angus has noticed that Kirstie’s personality has become quieter, shyer, more reserved and more like Lydia’s. Lydia’s visible memory is still fresh in both Sarah and Angus’s minds, and Sarah is concerned that Kirstie will turn and give her mother her trance-like, passive, blue-eyed stare and say: “I’m Lydia.” Shortly before Lydia’s death, the twins were swapping identities, and there was a fatal blurring as their distinctiveness froze over and “became fixed like a flaw in the ice.”

Tremayne unfolds alternating sections in Angus and Sarah’s anxious voices. For Sarah, there’s an odd prickle of apprehension, as if their lives were still being held by Lydia’s dark shadow. Sarah convinces herself that she cannot tell her husband any of her suspicions about Kirstie even as Angus struggles to control his anger at his wife, whom he thinks is partly to blame for Lydia’s death. But for Angus, fighting to keep his temper proves difficult at best in a landscape that seems littered with the secrets of their marital past.

From a mother’s angst to the wounded ghost of a daughter, the Moorcrofts arrive in Skye and onto Torran Island and into the isolated lighthouse keeper’s cottage. Yet the move only reinforces their memories of life with Lydia and the nagging questions left unresolved by her loss. Forced to grapple with Kirstie’s increasingly strange behavior and the growing suspicion that something is terribly amiss, Sarah drifts into her own investigation of her “ice twins,” casting inquisitive eyes on Kirstie and visiting with a renowned child psychologist in Glasgow.

While there is no real sense of palpable menace, Tremayne builds on Sarah and Angus’s uneasiness with each other and with Kirstie, and with the aura of suspicion that pervades this small community who--apart from Angus’s best friend, Gus--begin to look on Kirstie with a mix of trepidation and mounting fear. While the heart of Tremayne’s novel is the compelling mystery of Kirstie/Lydia (in a climax that is as stark as it is tragic), what makes this novel such a standout is Sarah and Angus’s brittle connection, the anger and animosity that is only pacified by Sarah’s penchant for rough, animalistic sex.

Angus increasingly tells his wife to get a grip--that Lydia is dead and that Kirstie is just a bit confused and unhappy. Still, Sarah becomes consumed by self-doubt, engulfed by the house, by Torran island, by what is happening to them. The anger begins to take control of Angus. Trapped with their memories of Lydia and with Kirstie’s innocent ramblings that it was Kirstie who died and not Lydia, Sarah and Angus face a reality far more brutal--a reality that threatens to undermine a new life begun with the best of intentions. Although the fading wintry afternoon light constantly shrouds Torran Island, the unbelievable cold in the Cottage owes much to what is left unsaid.

Tremayne draws us into his images: the dank, sloppy, treacherous tidal mudflats, the exposed tidal causeway of gray rocks and shingle where the journey to Torran Island is often only by rowboat; the inky, slippery seaweed; and the warped beauty of Torran Island, “a leering landscape, smeared and improper.” This quiet, sheltered, often stunning southern peninsula of Skye with its fog and darkness and feeble sun, its misty Ornsay shoreline “a deep gray saddening void,” is the perfect setting for Sarah’s dizzyingly insane sensation that maybe there are two identical Lydias in the house, playing games in the shadows and the cold, between all of the cobwebs and the rats.

Tremayne’s story works because of the natural, fluid way he flows between Sarah and Angus's anxious, fractured points of view, telling us of their passions and sadness as well as what their love for their twins will eventually lead to. A great thriller with a considerable amount on its mind, The Ice Twins is a brilliantly orchestrated psycho drama culminating in a storm-filled, tangled nightmare that reverberates with rage and ghosts and chaos where Sarah’s fanatical desire to protect her offspring comes at an incredible cost.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2015

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