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 abiding impression of Thursday’s Children is the courage of a woman returning to the Suffolk town of her roots which she left as a girl 23 years ago after being raped.
Frieda Klein, a London psychotherapist, is approached by an old acquaintance with a request for help regarding her disturbed daughter. It is this girl’s tragedy that drives Frieda back to her home town to discover a rapist turned killer. The plot is simple, her personal investigation intricate as she trawls an extended circle of former classmates, their current partners, children and parents, one-time teachers and cops. All are clearly delineated, but monopolising the action are Frieda’s friends: Josef the Ukrainian builder, Reuben, her analyst, Karlsson, a cop. Josef is delightful: like an adorable cat (and loved to distraction by the passionate Eva) he is a man who cannot be possessed – like Frieda herself who walks away from a smothering lover.
A love story then as much as a crime novel and exquisite in both genre, the dialogue so exact, so personal to the speaker, that you tend to skim the narrative in order to hear the people talk.
A splendid book: a beacon in the current crop. There is rape, murder, betrayal and poisonous jealousy but these are balanced by a powerful vein of compassion and good manners. This is the fourth in a series but Frieda and her friends are so well-drawn that, like Chee and Wexford and Brunetti with their orbiting stars, we need to find them again. The final revelation is that Nicci French is a collaboration. How did two people achieve such delicate unity?