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.
When a prison van is hijacked and the occupant sprung the Special Branch is in deep trouble. Not only was the prisoner, Jack Fenwick - a D.I. and one of their own - found guilty of dealing in illegal firearms, but his sergeant, Matthew Ryan, is accused of involvement at every turn.
Furiously protesting his innocence, convinced that his boss has been set up, Ryan resolves to discover the truth and clear the man who is also his friend and mentor. Suspended from duty he has no more than an out-of-date warrant card as spurious authority, but more substantial aid materialises with the arrival of feisty retired cop Grace Ellis, an old and loyal friend of the missing detective. She is followed by her one-time lover, a former spook.
Working on the premise that, despite appearances, D.I. Fenwick didn’t leave the prison van voluntarily, the first move for the maverick investigators is to discover who abducted him, presupposing that this might also lead to the people who planted guns in his house. They need statements of witnesses to the hijack but they have no access. However, by a happy coincidence Grace lives in an old safe house, decommissioned but once utilized as an incident room and still wired for advanced technology. The silent room is set up, furnished with state-of-the-art computers. Incredibly, the trio hack into HOLMES.
Links to Norway emerge, to North Sea oil, to an explosion on a rig in which Fenwick’s brother died. An evolving conspiracy with an ambiance of negligence and cover-ups is lightened with personal relationships: Ryan and the Fenwick family, with his blind twin sister and her guide dog, with his attractive superintendent as respect and admiration mutate to desire. Spooks spar like courting cats, the undeserving find each other. Goodies and oddballs predominate; in comparison the villains are curiously cardboard characters, more like symbols for greed and corruption. The plot within the plot is exposed satisfactorily after desperate violence and a crescendo of revelations, all to culminate in a flaming climax.
The narrative is colloquial, the dialogue stilted, but the Northumbrian background is used to advantage. The author’s knowledge of the Special Branch, Tactical Support, Organized Crime and, indeed, of hacking, is refreshing but daunting.