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.
Brenna Spector is an
established private investigator but a newcomer to crime fiction – and no
disappointment. Although her embarrassing gimmick is total recall (and her
difficulty in controlling it) her character and relationships are the main
attraction. Total recall (technically hyperthymestic syndrome) was triggered in
childhood when her big sister entered a strange car and was never seen again.
So, after trauma and bereavement, Brenna grows up, serves an
apprenticeship and branches out on her own as a P.I., finding missing people,
involved in divorce, adultery and other mundane problems until Carol Wentz
comes along, or rather, disappears.
Brenna is in Las Vegas, unfortunately reuniting an errant
husband with his devoted wife, when she takes a call from Nelson Wentz whom the
police suspect is behind Carol’s disappearance. Brenna agrees to search for her
and, returning to New York state, the memory syndrome kicks in. Trawling the
Wentz neighbourhood she recognises the town where a child went missing ten
years ago. She was involved herself but, as an untried investigator, withdrew
when warned off by the local police who were to close the case after making no
Now Brenna is experienced and, aided (but often distracted)
by that ambivalent syndrome, she senses connections between the two potential
crimes. Some of the police involved in the earlier case are still serving;
there are suggestions that Carol Wentz was looking for the lost child by way of
the internet. And then her distraught husband, already a suspect where she is
concerned, was questioned a decade ago in relation to the little girl. There
are other suspects in both cases: a popular soap star appears to be playing a role
in real life; not the only one: a number of residents in this affluent
community have skeletons in their closets. Brenna is rattling bones and it’s
going to cost.
The domestic life of a protagonist is essential in today’s
crime novels, and Brenna’s isn’t original: divorced mother, teenage daughter,
but this girl comes over fresh, intelligent, volatile, the relationship with
her mother as engaging as that between Brenna and her assistant, Trent. Trent
is young, vain and, despite fake tan and body piercing, harmless: a total
failure with woman but a wizard on the computer.
The story: to do more than mention the missing wife again,
the finding of the child, the fate of the suspect husband, would be to betray
the ramifications of a plot that is vastly intriguing. Supported by interesting
characters and embellished with fine writing this is the debut of an exciting
and credible investigator.