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 author was born in India and educated in the USA. She has been resident in Qatar for over a decade. Influenced by Jane Austen, Scandinoir and more than a whiff of Barbara Cartland, her style is peculiarly derivative, even bizarre in its setting.
We are in an unnamed city on the Arabian Gulf: oil-rich with all the latest luxuries of the western world and serviced by an underclass of workers sucked in from every corner of Asia. Sandwiched between the strata is a fine layer of educated locals epitomised by Ali, a maverick cop about to be married to an aspiring journalist: an Arab herself and feminist but shackled by her tyrannical family, not to speak of her potential in-laws.
The plot is simple, and involves ex-pats: Westerners living in guarded compounds. Lost, confused and bored, on-line dating presents itself as a dangerous distraction. Ali is embroiled in his first Western murder when a primary school teacher is found strangled in her bed. His bride offers assistance in the ensuing investigation but it’s the Nepalese agent, working undercover with the servants, who solves the mystery. Meanwhile the remains of another ex-pat are found smouldering in the desert. The outcome of this one is left hanging which is immaterial anyway; in this novel the murders are incidental.
One may surmise that before the days of western influence the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula knew their place: masters and servants, men and women, parents and children. Rajakumar demonstrates how deeply the old systems have been disrupted. So, despite the absence of crime as we know it, despite its crying out for the attention of a copy editor, this novel succeeds as a timely social commentary on a country undergoing what has been termed future shock.