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.
To start with a disappearance isn't unique but is still seductive, and for the aficionado it's technically interesting: how will Barclay make this scenario different?
The answer is, to begin with, marginally. The parents of a missing son hire a psychic whose name, Keisha Ceylon, signals quackery to a more balanced mind, and sure enough, a conspiratorial scam is involved: a seemingly banal resolution but a cunning teaser - and it works. Because, if the foundations of the plot are exposed by the twelfth page, something concrete has to follow. The reader is hooked.
Next comes a violent and horrible death, prolonged but secret, followed by another family's anxiety, escalating to terror with the continued absence of a wife and mother. Cue Keisha Ceylon and the shakedown. She has a sliding scale of fees for her assistance in finding missing people: five thousand dollars for the wealthy, proportionately less for the strapped but equally credulous. She is very good at her chosen calling: reading body language, sensing the thoughts and fears behind the spoken word, playing her victims like a fly fisherman, forgetting that some water is deep enough to conceal sharks.
Her character inspires grudging admiration and a certain empathy ("behind you!") for her carelessness in calculating risks. And we deplore her parasitic boy friend, a drone with muscle, who keeps his new set of massive wheels on rickety shelves in the living room.
Barclay's people are credible in behaviour and dialogue: the victims and distraught families, Keisha and her bovine partner, the black female detective who plods doggedly along the trail from the first murder. Her investigation leads to confession, more mayhem and, with the reappearance of a forgotten villain, a crazy climax.
Neat and cleverly resolved; we have deduced a little as we went along, have formed our own opinions as to guilt and the guilty, have apportioned blame and anticipated punishment, and ultimately we are left surprised, uncertain regarding morality, and ironically amused. We have been manipulated by a wily author with a flair for realism. Here is one best-seller who has earned his credits.