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.
Texas, 1981. The Civil Rights Movement lurks uneasily in his past for struggling black lawyer Jay Porter. His wife is heavily pregnant, bills mount, and his only client is a greedy and tiresome hooker. Women monopolize this long and involuted story but then the author is female, not named whimsically but for an uprising in Attica Prison, New York.
In the fraught eighties undertones of sex and race swirl below the surface; not all blacks have won their rights, not all their rights have been won. Porter is well-aware of this even before he becomes a reluctant witness to a white-on-white shooting on the banks of a creek in downtown Houston. From this point his troubles proliferate. Persuaded to represent a black youth beaten by hired mobsters, he is drawn into a threatened dock strike which would cripple America’ second port. So he his forced to negotiate with the elegant mayor: lover and fellow activist of his passionate student days.
Gradually, seamlessley, murders and beating, prostitutes, hit men and tycoons are linked through Porter’s careful investigations; itself part-detection, part-cunning. He charms information out of a hard-bitten reporter, aided by a most colourful Watson, half-Creole, half-Oklahoma Chickasaw, bar owner and villain, a slippery wamp ferret on the side of the angels.
The plot is a morality play: Good against Evil, the little man versus the corruption endemic in a country dependent on oil. Billions are at stake, powerful profiteers and huge fortunes at risk when one black man hears screams in the night and, finally, see black water rising in a poor man’s back yard.
A debut novel. Long and meaty, it could do with some of the fat being trimmed but still one for the intelligent reader.