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.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The quote from Edmund Burke precedes a disturbing story that epitomises its truth.
The setting is modern India and the author homes in on the lucrative business of child trafficking, centred here on Bangalore but with tentacles extending throughout the sub-continent. Cases are chronicled in vicious and excruciating detail. A schoolgirl disappears when attending church to pray for help in her exams; lovesick Rekha’s boyfriend persuades her to perform dodgy services for a creditor, and three poor country kids on a train succumb to the charms of an older youth called Krishna.
Despite the emphasis on individuals, behind the kind “aunty” in the church, behind the winsome lads and the one with the seductive smile who has taken the name of a god, is a hierarchy of middlemen and entrepreneurs: pimps, enforcers, and a host of double-dealers from street vendors to lawmen, some of whom trade to support their families, others selling their own children simply for profit.
Supply inevitably meets demand. In this glittering city of spanking new skyscrapers and plush offices, of gated communities in leafy suburbs, the rich pay high prices for under-age children – with the bonus that the younger the victim the more likely it is to be healthy, regardless of the lack of hygiene in the brothels.
The story starts with murder: a celebrated lawyer struck down in his own home, during the evening ritual of single malt followed by cognac: an almost prosaic prologue to the atrocities that follow, the details of which the reader tries to block out to concentrate on the redeeming feature: the Police.
With all the fine investigators that she has to follow Anita Nair has come up with an original. This is the second appearance of her Inspector Borei Gowda, an unpredictable teddy bear: a fat and guilt-ridden would-be sybarite afflicted with a strict wife, a loving mistress and a wayward son starting to experiment with hard drugs. Gowda is human but wily: indulgent with his two youngest detectives (Ratna clever and more worldly than her superior Santosh), appreciating the qualities of the more experienced men who complete the nucleus of his tiny force , all appalled by the horrors they uncover as the result of investigating the first killing. These are Edmund Burke’s “good men” – fictitious of course but their creator is real and her Acknowledgements List demonstrates the authenticity of her material and the formidable nature of research which was often field work. A brave author who has taken to heart the warning of a nineteenth century sage to shine a light on a trade where children are bought and sold as commodities. If you thought Rochdale was bad, read Chain of Custody.