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 novel should come with a health warning for although the sex goes almost unrequited the violence is laid on with a trowel, the more nasty as it comes in a style akin to outdated romances.
The curtain rises on a schoolgirl bludgeoned to death with a claw hammer, her friend discovered flayed in a pottery kiln. Heading the investigation is Detective Superintendent Bevans, a sad man blighted by some tragedy, and his lovelorn DI. As they work to link the latest murder to others with a similar MO they find the operation complicated by a possible connection with a major drugs racket.
Enter a black godfather called Franco as he plays an establishing scene with echoes of Corleone dismissing a grovelling minion. Franco runs a business so lucrative its profits help to shore up the corrupt regime of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. He is a patriot then and not a total villain. Moreover despite the gruesome and graphic tortures and horrible ends meted out to his opponents and informers, since he became a leader he no longer participates. Now he gives the orders.
He has an Achilles heel. He adores his daughter, a beautiful girl who is shortly abducted. It’s her father’s desperation that brings together the threads in the story but where one may anticipate a grand confrontation between Bevans, the brilliant cop, and the underworld despot, nothing is simple in this convoluted tale.
It becomes apparent that there’s some kind of past relationship between the two men, a suggestion of homo-eroticism, blatant hints of a mystery the secret of which is held by a dying pathologist. There has been forensic malfeasance, someone blew the whistle, now Bevans sits at a bedside and weeps tears of guilt for the imminent death of a man he loves.
Meanwhile the beautiful child, destined to be the next victim, languishes at the hands of Franco’s lascivious brutes.
If you can stomach the amount of human effluent, can accept ten words where one would do, if you can suspend your disbelief as you may for Bond or Brando, this is your thriller.