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 married couple hire a large house and fill it with relations for a family Christmas. On Christmas morning the couple disappear with their two small boys, returning on Boxing Day unharmed but resisting all requests for explanations.
Seven years later their sister-in-law, Amber, has become so obsessed by the mystery that she consults a hypnotherapist ostensibly to be cured of insomnia. Under hypnosis she utters the incomprehensible phrase “kind of cruel”, and shortly afterwards finds herself the suspect in the brutal murder of a total stranger.
Slow and verbose to this point the action quickens with the appearance of police, a motley team: the blustering D.I. taunted by a maverick D.C., his brilliant wife, a lusty straying dog, a prim Greek sergeant: all remarkable but good for comic effect. As are the bright children who write plays and teach their parents grammar.
Characterisation, dialogue, plot are excellent, over-riding slips but not the longuers when the principals delve into the recesses of their minds to fill gaps and analyse behaviour. Halfway the reader may pierce the fog to identify the killer but then finds himself engaged in a compulsion to discover the connection between the two murders and the weird family disappearance seven years ago.
The denouement, if unwieldy and lengthy, is satisfying. With the introspection cut out the rest could stand on its own merit, motives for the crime being bizarre but manifest. A tantalising and disturbing book.