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.
This long novel starts with a dinner party in a smart Tokyo apartment. There is tension, ostensibly concerned with the ability to produce children; fertility is a good thing, sterility a word to be avoided in polite society. Within two days the host is found dead, alone in his apartment, after drinking coffee.
Shortly the coffee is found to have contained arsenic. The wife would be the prime suspect but she was hundreds of miles away at the time, on another island. The rest of the book revolves round that cup of coffee and the means of introducing the poison – with one small early pointer that could be a clue and which sticks in the mind like a burr in wool.
For a generation raised on the River Kwai and “Tenko” this novel is bewildering. Simple and predictable, it is competently written, ably translated – albeit into American English – but there is no characterisation and one learns to identify people by their names alone. Even the fact that the theme is a pathological obsession with siring children is not peculiarly Japanese for the investigating police, men as well as women, find it excessive. Introduction of a forensics professor livens things up somewhat but his exposure of a much-vaunted trick modus operandi is a damp squib and poor substitute for a climax.
Marginally different then, but against a background and with a cast of characters that could be figures in a Los Angeles suburb, exotic it is not. I had no curiosity concerning the identity of the murderer, there was no colour, no suspense; Salvation of a Saint is a Howdunnit, and dull.
Translated by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander.