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.
unremarkable family wins fifteen million pounds on a lottery. Suddenly obsessed
with status Dad elects to move from their modest semi-detached to a gated
community housing what no doubt the estate agent calls mansions. The neighbours play
golf, have coffee mornings, and their daughters ride, so Dad spends time
at St Andrews, Mum feels like an outcast and Rosie, the teenager, misses her
grammar school friends.
but the mystery is short-lived, at least for the reader. There is panic, hysteria,
anguish on the part of the mother. Dad can’t be found at his hotel in Scotland,
there is blood on the lawn where Rosie was revising for exams. For the police
there are the usual suspects: family, friends, a prowling psychopath. On the
other hand the reader knows a great deal; the perpetrator is an osteopath and a
drug addict: a rapist, possibly a killer, definitely a fantasist, and mad. He
demands a ransom for the return of Rosie alive.
Two threads evolve: for the reader, thinking herself privy to the actions
and intentions of the villain, the only suspense is how he is to be thwarted –
but the police come at the crime from a different direction. Where was Rosie’s
father when she went missing and he wasn’t at his hotel at St Andrews? What are
reputed girl-friends and their parents on the estate holding back – and why,
when her silver skirt is found, is it stained with blood and semen? Is there a
conspiracy – or are the ransom letters part of some cruel hoax?
Lines converge: the reader’s attempts at solution, the police following
their own lead, and always in the background the awareness that a young girl is
missing: alive, dead, even dying. For a debut novel it works but will be better
appreciated by a young reader. Davies knows adolescence and its mores; her
style is English as she is spoke - both in dialogue and narrative but
monotonous. A heavy book. Could do with pruning.