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 family story involves three sisters and although it opens with the middle one embarking on some crazy adventure with a man she’s just met in Central America, the pivot of the tale is a terrible accident thirteen years ago which tore the family apart.
Guilt over the smaller sister’s ghastly death has destroyed the girls’ parents, killed the grandparents, been suppressed by the oldest sibling, the home-maker Kate, only to return shockingly when she learns that Anya, the wild one, a diver, has disappeared with a local guide in a deep pool in the Mexican jungle.
With the mother an alcoholic, the father a recovering drug addict living with his new wife – a fierce guardian – Kate turns for help to Anya’s steady friend, the adoring and selfless Will, having dismissed her lovers as broken reeds. Will drops everything, including his current partner, and heads for Mexico, keeping in touch with Kate by mobile and stricken with dread when a man’s body is recovered from the pool.
The narrative switches between the main characters, between present and past tenses, from Kate and Will to Anya – who is trapped in some dark place, alone and in danger of drowning, and trying to survive by reliving the past. Meanwhile Kate sits at her computer torn between rage, frustration and terror, alternately bullying and pleading with suspect people in Mexico, with the Foreign Office and the Press while trying to juggle a new and fractious baby and a concerned but often disapproving husband.
Less a crime novel, more romance with malice aforethought, it sets out to depict the mending of a disrupted family and to focus on one sister whose development has been curtailed by devastating shock but who matures in the end. Girlish in style, too much emoting but basically thoughtful.
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