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.
A fierce storm on a night in October 1987 results in collateral damage that destroys the complacency of one comfortable suburban family – but then the complacency was superficial.
With father playing away from home; daughter pubescent and rebellious while mother trying to paper over the cracks; the coming storm symbolises one family’s cataclysm. The morning after: trees down, roads blocked and schools closed, fifteen-year-old Tania Mills leaves home to revise with her friend, and vanishes with no trace other than her jeans neatly folded on a chair in a park keeper’s hut.
27 years later DS Sarah Collins, en route to Hendon and her first day as an inspector, is handed the same cold case with little more meat to it than the original suspects: pathetic or appalling, reliable or lying through their teeth. She scarcely has time to read the file before she is distracted by a more immediate demand: the savage climax to a domestic situation which to date has been handled by DC Lizzie Griffiths. Young and not yet hardened, Lizzie is still suffering from stress after witnessing her colleague and a girl fall from the top of a tower block. Now, after weeks of trying to deal with a dysfunctional family dominated by a charming and vicious psychopath, when he kills she flips. But before she collapses irretrievably she comes into contact with Sarah and a DC casually nicknamed Fat Elaine. Naturally and with no hint of feminism the three officers, mutually supportive, form a thread which, along with Lizzie’s burgeoning confidence, is interwoven with the two plots: the hunting down of the present killer who is on the run and holding his own child as hostage, and with Sarah’s cold case: an investigation which becomes a meticulous winnowing of the missing girl’s contacts: those known, and those missed or dismissed 27 years ago.
The various lines of action evolve seamlessly by way of police procedure, fleshed out, humanized, by characters and relationships. There is Sarah: perceptive, resourceful, gradually coming to terms with her own sexuality; Lizzie, brave and guilt-ridden; Elaine in flatties and frumpy frocks: confident in her priorities, finding her niche as a good detective given the right boss.
The men don’t come off so well. The good ones are seriously (but credibly) flawed, the abusers are anathema. Kate London was a cop with the Metropolitan Police for eight years. It shows: in the knowledge of process, in an acute ear for dialogue, in the flowing and plausible interaction between colleagues and the public: with witnesses, suspects, perpetrators. This is no ex-cop writing a good book; it’s a brilliant author exploding on the crime scene