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 is a story that hooks the reader from the start. Two young lovers, Mackey and Rosie, plan to elope; Rosie doesn’t show, Mackey, devastated, spends the next 22 years cherishing the dream that eventually find her again.
He climbs the social ladder, becomes an undercover cop, marries a lawyer, fathers a daughter to whom he’s devoted, is divorced and becomes obsessed by the possibility that his ex-wife’s boyfriends could be a paedophile. At this point, hag-ridden by his work-load and domestic problems, his lost love reappears. First her suitcase, then a note, finally herself, and a working class community in a Dublin street called Faithful Place is torn apart.
The author depicts the exotic enclave with the skill of a social anthropologist tempered by the affection of one who has surely been there herself. If not, her imagination is magical. The focal family is the Mackeys: a tempestuous tribe held together by Ma: fierce and loyal to her alcoholic slob of a husband, and to her four warring children, all grown up, two decades after young Rosie disappeared, all with colourful records of partnership and crime, of loves and lusts, betrayals and such festering hatreds that climax in murder.
Family doesn’t monopolize the action. The Mackeys and their neighbours are the most rambunctious characters but the police are a neat foil; the wise old superintendent, catfish lower ranks – and the cool investigating officer who is at odds with Mackey. Their rivalry is symbolized by boxing: homicide cops abiding by the rules, Undercover (Mackey) the bare-knuckle fighter – as he is throughout: the ultimate Irish maverick.
Dubiners are a complicated people but her they are exposed in all their awful glory, and French has caught their essential dynamism to the delight of all foreigners beyond the Irish Sea.