Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. 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.
Once you are attuned to the author’s routine of introducing paragraphs with “This is” you have an interesting situation concerning a group of parents in leafy rural New England deeply involved in their girls’ competitive swimming and leading busy, sometimes concealed lives.
Annie, mother of two, is haunted by her brother’s suicide and increasing estrangement from her husband: a woman desperate for solace. But this is not a wife-swapping community; these are responsible citizens and parents, particularly the women, who take on too much, and the flaws show. Overweight louche Dinah has low self-esteem and shouts so raucously at her competing daughter that the coach is forced to reprimand her. Ravishing Chris diverts the swim-fathers’ attention from their racing girls to her “perfect rear” (but Annie is attracted to Chris’s husband). Only Mandy, the cleaner, is without problems, non-judgemental, observing that swimsuits are so tight it needs two adults to get a girl into one; Mandy, who hears sobs inside a cubicle and doesn’t intrude, who sees binoculars trained elsewhere than on racing swimmers. And it’s Mandy who notices one man in the bleachers who watches youngsters with particular concentration.
In the background, operating over the years throughout the region is a serial killer who stalks nice girl to remote rest stops and cuts their throats.
This is no whodunit. The murderer is exposed quite soon (but only to the reader); he is identified and named and his motivation revealed: he kills because he loves to see the light fade in the eyes of a girl who knows she is about to die.
This book is a stream of consciousness punctuated by action which may be trivial but is finally devastating. Throughout Annie’s neurotic and imaginative ramblings her passion for her daughters flares like a beacon. It seems obvious how the story will end: the threat eliminated, a dilemma resolved, yet despite percipience the resolution is satisfactory and very well done – with a neat footnote: even Mandy the cleaner thinks that one evening when they’ve all gone home she will get into a swimsuit and enter the water.