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.
This sets out to be a thriller rather than a mystery. The reader always know where she is, or at least for half the time, and would much prefer to be elsewhere. We start with a psychopath, Dr King, burning one of his victims in a bothy on Cairngorm before returning to another woman whom he keeps alive in a concealed “guest suite” in his Edinburgh house.
The burning bothy is spotted by mountaineers and the local police alerted. Only a tooth and a bloody scarf survive but enough for DNA tests to identify the remains as those of a lawyer missing for the previous two weeks. Since she had her home and practice in Edinburgh; the investigation shifts to the capital, to a team headed by a newcomer to the force: DI Callanach: half-French and ex-Interpol with a clouded past. He is an edgy, haunted fellow who initiates a running feud with his sergeant at their first team meeting. It is here that they receive word of the burnt body on Cairngorm but scarcely do they have time to engage in the case, and Callanach to meet DI Ava Turner - who will provide the obligatory sex interest – when a second woman is reported missing. There are similarities with the first: both single, successful, highly intelligent.
The police flounder from one big obvious clue to the next: a figure pulling a wheelie suitcase in the small hours, a supermarket trolley, human remains in a drum of acid. Callanach is bewildered by the plethora of pointers while continually obstructed by a bungling civilian profiler in league with the hostile DS. The reader however, is streets ahead of the police, having the advantage of alternate chapters describing King’s trawling for victims and depicting in meticulous detail the excruciating operations being perpetrated in his dreadful guest suite.
Meanwhile DI Turner is monopolized by her own heart-wrenching case: newborn babies being left on a park bench to die. Somehow Callanach finds time to help her out, to find the mothers and uncover the evil influence behind the infanticides. This results in Turner’s suspension – fortuitously since, her own case solved, she can apply herself to that of Callanach’s murdered women.
And now, at the penultimate moment, we have the reappearance of Callanach’s mad stalker who was the instigator of his disgrace and self-imposed exile from his beloved France. These distractions aside, the inevitable happens: Dr King takes his last victim and meets his Nemesis. Loose ends are tied. No doubt Callanach and Turner will appear again; a boon for the connoisseur of fictitious psychopaths.
For Amy Meyers review, click here