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.
In seventeenth century Lapland an old Sami is hunted down and lynched by a Christian mob. Racism is less overt now despite its being enforced by greed. In a country exploited by big business there is little regard for indigenous people.
Nothing new there except that it’s unexpected in Father Christmas land – although here the existence of the Reindeer Police smacks of Toytown. However, these reindeer are flesh and blood and, like Masai cattle, they represent the owner’s wealth. Herds are territorial and, large or small, individually or family-owned, they are monitored by the police and owners compensated for beasts killed on the roads. Despite thefts of neighbours’ unmarked animals, even rustling, there is no parallel with hill farming or the American West. In Lapland it’s dark for forty days and on the day the sun returns it’s for twenty seven minutes max. The cold is stultifying.
In Truc’s book on the day the sun reappears in the town of Kautokeino (pop. 2000) a sacred drum is stolen from the museum and the following day a lecherous old herder is murdered. The cops detailed to investigate are from the Reindeer Police: a 50-year-old Sami, Klemet Nanga, and Nina Nansen, aged 20. Nina is fresh out of the police academy: clever and imaginative despite her training, while Klemet is pragmatic but retaining strong bonds with his native culture. Prickly on the surface, basically the pair function well, sensing a link between the theft and murder, suggesting that the thief could be the killer.
In a community that is more or less closed there is a plethora of suspects. Feuding herders are favoured by the obnoxious Deputy Superintendent of the State Police; there is a creepy pastor, a rabid Sami activist, a lewd Russian truck driver, not to mention a French geologist with a record concerning under-age girls. And there is Berit, an abused farm servant who holds secrets, and the sins of this bleak place go back four centuries.
By no means a great work of literature but, heavy as it is, and suffering from a simplified style, the world that’s depicted, daunting and dark like its inhabitants, grips against the reader’s will. Fiction it may be but the facts exist. Whether in the Americas, Africa or the frozen Arctic the native people were there first, but for how much longer?
Translated by Louise Rogers LaLaurie