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.
Sea of Stone is a family saga, an Icelandic drama played out among the lava fields during the recent eruption of that volcano which grounded air traffic and disrupted criminals’ plans.
It is 2010 and two murders have already occurred. To recap: brothers Magnus and Ollie were raised by their brutal grandfather until their father reappeared to carry them off to the States. Magnus became a cop, Ollie tended to drift. In 1996 their father was murdered in Boston and the brothers returned to Iceland, Magnus maintaining that the clue to the killer’s identity lay there, Ollie intent on foiling him. But it’s Ollie who runs into a school teacher whose own father was killed (in Iceland) by the same modus operandi.
Shortly after the brothers touch down in Reykjavik the old grandfather is battered to death. Naturally Magnus (and the reader) scent connections, confirmed less by events and behaviour than a parallel with the sagas. Vendettas are no prerogative of southern Europe and family feuds not confined to Sicily. In rural Iceland two families living either side of a lava field are so extended that a family tree was a wise inclusion.
For all that, the ramifications of parentage and children, siblings, in-laws and lovers are so intricate, the names so alien, you lose your bearings and never achieve empathy. You are left with the characters that possess a salient feature; the widowed grandmother is demented, one daughter-in-law communicates with the dead; one cop is obese, another black; the rest are two-dimensional.
Action oscillates in time and place, the author striking short cuts between the principals who reveal the denouement in carefully plotted stages, undisturbed by any more bloodshed or cliffhangers until the last, the ending left either deliberately ambiguous or as preparation for a sequel.