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.
What D.C.I. Camille Verhoeven lacks in stature he makes up for in intelligence, and the skills to delegate even when his small team is stretched to the limit by an excess of indecipherable clues artfully presented by a serial killer.
The current crime is Grand Guignol: a drama set in an up-market Parisian loft, the victims prostitutes, the director of the play a killer who films a performance culminating in dismemberment. The slaughterhouse ambience is elaborated in the forensic reports on items employed prior to death: the electric drill, the chain saw, nail gun, lighter. Any gaps, such as the emotions enjoyed by the perpetrator at the time, are rectified in articulate letters sent to Verhoeven in the course of the investigation.
Nicely spaced throughout the novel are the discoveries of past murders, associated with the first by MO and the dawning realisation that every one is modelled on a fictitious crime. Knowledgeable readers will have identified American Psycho initially and will read on intrigued to discover the models for previous murders. But where the reader may enjoy the puzzle, Verhoeven and his team are engaged in a deadly game, compelled to find the killer before he strikes again in a welter of horror. This he has promised in his mad letters, a promise confirmed by a forensic profiler brought in by the police.
Suspense builds too obviously for the reader was desensitized so long ago that when the climax comes it’s a damp squib. There is interest in the fact that the investigation has been hampered by leaks to the Press, by the revelation of a mole in the ranks, and finally by the awareness that below the bloodfest this was a whodunit. As such the book has a certain technical curiosity but you have to wade through a lot of effluent to get there. And someone: editor, proof reader, translator, must learn to spell “all right”. “Alright” jars in an otherwise fluent translation.
Translated by Frank Wynne.