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.
The current vogue of starting a crime novel with a scatter of short sketches can be intriguing; the clever part is interweaving the threads to form a colourful tapestry. In Scarred the setting is Norway: its culture, politics, crime, and a form of corruption that is pretty dark for readers accustomed to a lighter climate. Perhaps that is what lies behind our fascination with Nordic noir.
Enger’s Prologue opens with a snow cave collapsing on a small boy and his brother holding himself responsible for the death. Children, families and guilt permeate the novel from an early murder in a care home where a worker’s son discovers the mutilated corpse, to a family held hostage at the end. Scenes and scenarios come and go: in the present tense, in short chapters.
There is the politician: Justice Minister Trine, object of a smear campaign who, faced with a dilemma, is unable to defend herself. There is the accountant’s wife and toddler, photographed by a sinister watcher, similarly a mature student haunted by a stalker. Some of these are linked through friendship and all are connected by murder: victims, investigating cop – and one who is as much observer and Greek chorus as participant: Enger’s series character, a journalist called Henning. Somewhere there is a killer, maybe two, and always in the background are secrets so dire that in one case suicide is considered as the alternative to exposure.
The novel is a web of motives and family discord with childhood memories so dreadful that adults refuse to go there while others thrive on them, consorting with demons. There are flaws. A red herring is too quickly scotched. One crucial revelation fails to justify its suspenseful build-up – but who’s perfect? Enger is another exotic, he keeps you turning the pages: a sophisticated exponent of Scandinoir.