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.
Cyber-bullying is one thing, revenge porn another. Watch Me combines them in a lethal binary.
In the bland cathedral city of St Albans a fifteen-year-old girl is pilloried by her peers at school after compromising pictures of her are posted on-line. Then her suicide note is sent to her tormentors and her body found in woodland. The autopsy reveals the presence of heroin where there was no history of drugs prior to the fatal dose.
Since on-line bullying is suspected the Metropolitan Police are involved in the person of Gremlin, a taskforce established to engage specifically with Cyber & E-crime. The rising star of the group, newly recruited and the only woman, is DS Nasreen Cudmore; her immediate boss DCI Burgone are two good cops obviously designed for each other, but their relationship to be held in abeyance after just one drunken night. Next morning, both hungover, and even as the team are discussing an overdose of heroin in the body of a girl who didn’t do drugs, a second girl is reported missing. This time foul play is not only obvious but announced. An on-line text from her abductor gives the police 24 hours to find her before she dies. His victim is 18, a university student and the sister of DCI Burgone.
Nasreen is devastated for her lover, and the sense of personal involvement intensifies as she detects a link between the current cases and one in which she was involved in the past. With a journalist called Freddie Venton, she traced and apprehended a serial killer: the Hashtag Murderer. Freddie is a neurotic woman scarred by the Hashtag killer and subject to panic attacks, but a wizard on computers. Although Hashtag is securely incarcerated Nasreen suspects some kind of collusion with an accomplice on the outside and she persuades her superintendent to allow her to recruit Freddie as a consultant. With DC Green, a driver of exemplary skill, the three women make a formidable posse in the increasingly urgent hunt for a sadist who is holding one girl alive, and who is now suspected of implication in the death of the schoolgirl.
Women dominate this novel, as victims and perpetrators, predator and prey. Men are dismissed out of hand, infantilism earning them the epithet of “man-babies”. Despite its breathless style Watch Me carries a strong and highly topical message, emphasised in an appendix setting out the aims and operation of the Revenge Porn Helpline. An informative book, far more than a tract for young people and their parents.