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 small girl is found, freezing and close to death, tethered to a tree on a hillside above Cape Town. The expert investigator is Dr. Clare Hart, a forensic profiler who works with the police “when things happen to children” as she explains to the girl who found the tethered child, this one with weals on her back.
As the case opens with its indications of more horror to come, Hart is approached by an old man who pleads with her to find his granddaughter. Rosie, a cellist, walked out of her music school three weeks ago into a void from which she has just phoned him screaming for help. Hart protests, citing her prior commitment to the abused child, then succumbs to take on what she views initially as two discrete cases, at the same time desperately preoccupied with the discovery of her own unwanted pregnancy. All is set for nail-biting plot developments with fascinating twists courtesy of an iconoclast who knows her country as Donna Leon knows her Venice.
Orford’s South Africa is new to readers familiar only with McClure and the relative simplicity of Kramer and Zondi with their constant banter concerning colour: Kramer patronising, Zondi impertinent. Four decades later such banter is taboo and no one refers to race, colour or creed. Hart’s lover is a Moslem, her friends are gay, white, black; cops, angels and villains coming indiscriminately from eastern Europe, fundamental Christian cults, the slums, discredited Boer communities. This is post-apartheid: the exploitive and exploited of all shades: unsophisticated, wary, cunning survivors from oligarchs in their gated mansions to the shanty town dwellers. And then there are the politicians and cops, some bent, others who walk tight ropes as they strive to keep a lid on the seething cauldron that is the rainbow nation.
An exciting and unexpected exposure, and a rattling good read.