Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Former mountaineer and explorer, her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.
On a somnolent afternoon in 1934 a private detective, Andrew Singleton, witnesses a mirage from the deck of a cross-channel steamer en route to France. A blonde in the next deckchair explains that the image is a message from elemental spirits. She vanishes, to return later in sexy dreams. The story is permeated by dreams; Singleton is researching their science, and when his colleague, Trelawney, arrives from London, they are called in to assist a French cop in the case of a man who appears to have died of fright in his sleep.
It’s discovered that elsewhere other men have died similarly. There has to be a connection and by way of sympathisers in the Institut Metapsychique and his own esoteric knowledge Singleton convinces his colleague and the police that the deaths are murder, not by material means but by a human being who can manipulate his victims’ dreams. The method is ingenious. There are incubi and succubae who can be introduced into dreams where they rape and kill, although since the victims die of fright to strangle them after demonic rape smacks of gilding the lily.
Despite this the saga ends traditionally with the monster tracked to his lair in Bohemia (shades of werewolves and vampires): to a decrepit castle on a rock above the Danube. There is an imprisoned lady or two, a shoot-out and an explanation – not before time although a few questions remain.
Pretentious text with scholarly footnotes sits oddly with an awkward translation. One for dream buffs and metapsychics.