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 story told in flashbacks that alternate with present time is saved from confusion by succinct chapter headings denoting the date, location and identity of the writer.
Ten years ago 15 year-old Scarlett disappeared when on holiday with her family in Rhodes. No trace was found of her by Greek or British police. Ten years later she is discovered during a raid on an English brothel by Special Branch looking for evidence of people trafficking.
Although there is no evidence that Scarlett has committed any crime there is no doubt that she possesses information that may identify and even destroy at least one organisation bringing European women and girls to Britain for sexual exploitation. But, terrified of retaliation or traumatized, Scarlett isn’t talking. Detailed to try to win her confidence is DCI Lou Smith, who, as a DC, was involved in the woman’s disappearance a decade ago. It is Scarlett’s story that now alternates with that of Lou, the one of horror and survival, counterpoint to the other’s careful probing.
Prior to this assignment Lou had been heading an investigation into the murder of a publican and the serious beating of a drugs courier, both members of local gangs now engaged in a feud involving a missing consignment of cocaine. Drugs, gangs and prostitution are intertwined, bringing in both Special Branch and the local police and from the welter of clues and crimes, not to speak of murder, Lou extracts a thread that leads her by way of Scarlett to revelations that are the more revolting because hitherto unsuspected.
A neatly constructed novel; and you’ll learn more about the sexual abuse of women and children than you want to know. Not a book to love as its cover maintains; love is here but outweighed by revulsion. The villains are psychopaths although there is the odd gangster with allegiances who may question his own actions.
Haynes doesn’t neglect private lives. Lou’s relationship with her Canadian lover is threatened by the demands of work, while her gay friend is distraught at the loss of her partner. Personal problems of other cops are sketched in and plausible - and then there is Scarlett’s strange family: alternately dismissive of her reappearance when thought to be dead, and seemingly frightened of her.
The author is in police intelligence and it shows but not obtrusively. She writes well too, both narrative and dialogue. Inspired by a true story she also acknowledges her debts to law enforcement and all those who helped her research such diverse subjects as long distance road haulage, traffic conditions in Antwerp and the Dutch language. Not a book you want to read again but it should be read once by everyone.