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.
Murder in darkest East Anglia. Set in the Hate Crimes unit of Peterborough’s Police Department this novel is as much an exposure of the hidden world of migrant workers as it is a police procedural.
Ethnic diversity prevails, notably among the cops. D.I. Zigic’s background is Turkish, that of Ferreira, his sergeant, East European, but it is their personalities that dominate: Zigic clever and cautious, Ferreira impulsive, brave, extrovert. Both come from respectable upwardly mobile families, both are dedicated to the force they serve.
Hate Crimes is currently involved in the savage murders of a Somali youth and an Iranian engineer, skin colour rather than religion the likely motivation of suspected neo-Fascist killers. Which brings in the local M.P.: an opportunist who heads a right-wing splinter party that is gaining ground but threatened by media rumours of its affinity with murderous racists.
The third element in a volatile brew is that of third and fourth generation immigrants, now established citizens, not overtly violent but passionately entrenched in the adopted country, determined to protect their hard-won rights and status. And then a speeding car rams a bus shelter, killing two, injuring a third, a Slovakian woman who refuses to talk, to name names even though one of the victims was her sister, and one was deliberately targeted.
As the new investigation opens the cops find themselves interviewing terrified or vengeful people who speak different languages, who can lie and cover and distract with hidden agenda. Somehow Zigic and Ferreira tease out ravelled threads among the aspirations and terrors not only of migrants but of cops, naïve or suborned, of politicians and their vicious minders.
The M.P. walks a tightrope assessing voters, counting votes, considering how to deal with the threat of people who have imported feuds like a disease. Lithuanians hate Russians, Balkan Christians and Muslims nurture the memory of old atrocities – and there is lethal in-fighting within groups. Informers are traitors and no one talks.
A thoughtful book about a tricky subject but although hate and greed are the dominant themes as demonstrated by pathological thugs, whether public school or low-life, the redeeming feature is the police. Discounting the odd blemished apple in the barrel this small team headed by Zigic and Ferreira is an integrated unit, a professional miscegenation – and it works.