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.
A Viking festival is in progress in the ancient city of York. Warriors in full fig armed with lethal weapons are battling and slaying, falling and rising, and one has his axe stolen. He complains bitterly to DCI Peterson who forgets all about it until after a girl’s skull is cleft and a jeweller decapitated, and the pathologist postulates an axe as the murder weapon.
As a police procedural this does the police no service although, if the cops are presented as plods, the reader has an unfair advantage in that, from page one, we are familiar with the killer, and throughout the book accompany him on his murderous raids, stealing coins and jewels from the corpses, leaving banknotes. So, halfway through the novel, when Peterson tumbles to the Viking connection, it’s long past time. Now the police focus on the local museum and a fresh circle of suspects. At last there is mystery, a whodunit for, with two more axe murders committed by the psychopath (a wannabe Viking according to a profiler) it’s obvious that since there is no raving lunatic conspicuous among all the suspects: members of the victims’ families in addition to the museum staff – then one of them has to be the killer disguised as a normal person. It could work. It doesn’t (although Rendell could have done it, perhaps as Vine).
The climax is predictable, the denouement flat as if the author had tired of the concept and needed to close quickly and start the next book.