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.
A sophisticated story based on a simple brief email sent to a student ten years ago, the end result being murder: a series of puzzles for over 300 absorbing pages, the keystone solution obvious in hindsight. but only to a reader unfazed by mystery and clever red herrings.
A crime writer, variously known as Leonora/Nora/Lee/Leo (and thereby hangs a tale), receives word from Clare, her best friend until she dropped out of the sixth form. At the same time Leonora walked out on her lover, her family moved far away, and at sixteen and without any explanation she broke all ties with her past. Now, a decade later, out of nowhere Clare, her one-time closest confidant, sends an invitation to her hen party.
After some unsatisfactory research into the other guests Leonora accepts warily and a formalized scenario opens. The party setting: a remote but modern retreat deep in a Northumbrian forest and a closed community of six people, nicely differentiated. There is Clare, the potential bride: glamorous but agreeable; Flo: self-appointed host and the epitome of neurotic groupies, and Melanie, a new mother frantic with anxiety when she can’t ring home because there’s no signal in the forest and the landline goes down. There is ostensibly stable Nina, a doctor who chain-smokes roll-ups, and Tom the gay theatrical guy, with a ready supply of coke. Finally Leonora, the observer, the introvert, the one who fulfils the place of investigator, solving the mystery and naming the killer – because, after the manner of a modern Greek tragedy, murder was presaged ten years ago with the typing of that fateful email. It was even spelled out on the Ouija board at a séance in the forest that started as a prank and turned into an omen.
A fine debut novel, well written, and a meticulously observed portrait of a woman of courage who gives trust and love unconditionally, unaware that all the time her back is uncovered and vulnerable.