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 detailed and most intimate tale of lives after families have lost a small child: the ravages of guilt and recrimination, of desperate hope and hopes shattered.
Barry and Robin paint and live in Tangier with their adored three-year-old Dillon. Harry, baby-sitting one evening, pops out for a moment - and an earthquake strikes. He rushes back to find his house a pile of rubble. Dillon's body is never found.
The guilt is instantaneous and overwhelming, the madness insidious. For Harry there is alcoholism, mental breakdown and a belief that, by a miracle, Dillon survived. Robin is obdurate; her son is dead and Harry close to delirium. And despite her holding him responsible she has her own secret guilt that forces her to hold the marriage together: her private form of atonement.
Five years after they left Tangier for Ireland Harry is convinced he sights Dillon in a crowded Dublin street. Tracking the boy down is a lengthy process involving friends of friends, CCTV, checking vehicle number plates, and the reappearance of Garrick, a suave American from the golden days in Tangier. Garrick is the last in a string of concerned sceptics headed by Robin, who see in Harry a man driven over the edge by grief. Then he steals a pistol and that heralds the countdown to resolution.
This is a novel with sins rather than crime: the inside story of lost children, threatened marriages and violent death. The cover is nothing more than an empty swing. Heart-rending, like the book.