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.
And now, after the American West, Guatemala and the convolutions of Danish-noir, we are plunged into Essex gangland: lawyers, cops and criminals – which is tautology because in Wilkins’ book they’re all from the same mould.
Some break the mould. Kaz is about to be released from prison after serving time for her part in an armed robbery when she refused to shop her brother, the prime mover. Inside she has come clean, discovered a gift for drawing and wants nothing more than to break free of her degenerate family, go to art college and become a painter.
Bad timing. Joey, her beloved little brother – the one she served time for – has just rumbled an undercover cop, tortured and murdered him. Not his first cop-killing but Joey’s family owes their survival to the quality of the lawyers they employ and the cops on their payroll. Kaz, emerging clean to a corrupt environment, is faced with dilemmas on all sides. Determined to get her back in the firm Joey throws money at her, cites loyalty, love and his own innocence even as the killing continues. Kaz accepts the cash, rationalises and goes into denial. She is a welter of emotions. Along with her craving for a life devoted to art, there is compassion for her misguided brother, while at the same time she is hounded by a seductive cop detailed to persuade her to turn and give evidence against Joey. Floundering, she seeks advice and comfort from the solicitor who was her sole support in prison and with whom she’s disastrously in love.
Monitoring people and events, a metaphorical stalker, is DS Nicci Armstrong, divorcee and single mother, who has two simple and consuming obsessions: her small daughter, and putting Joey Phelps behind bars for the murder of the undercover cop. Then Sean, the other brother and a vicious brute, is released from jail and the volcano erupts.
A reasonable plot: exposure of a homegrown criminal Family beside which the Mafia appear honourable men. Telling vernacular dialogue, the narrative consistent: estuary English as she is thought as well as spoke. The women convincingly tough yet betraying their femininity in their dislike of guns and a tendency to cry rather a lot. Joey Phelps is the most credible character: one of fiction’s more chilling psychopaths.