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.
Maverick cop turned freelance is employed by society lawyer to identify sender of threatening letters. Chandleresque situation of ostensibly credulous man used to pull chestnuts out of fire, but set in Victorian London rather than southern California.
Similarities: bankers’ fraud and blackmail, child trafficking and
corruption in high places. Differences: the age of consent is twelve so intercourse with child prostitutes is legal. No AIDS but syphilis, no easy contraception but many dead babies. Time: 1850; background: autumnal fogs, slums, chop houses, brothels, all portrayed in scrupulous detail.
Some relief in the domestic life of the protagonist: much loved father verging on dementia, mute black maid, nice cat, but one craves to get out to the suburbs and unpolluted air. So what are the connections between the terrible graveyard with its putrefying corpses, the dark law office, those letters, and the ingenuous young housekeeper who inserts her story, written in the pleasant rural mansion under the avuncular eye of her adored guardian?
This is a curiosity inspired by Dickens’ Bleak House, but with all the advantages of a modern author who may presage the advent of the Ratcliffe Highway murders (with P.D. James’ analysis) and who can even produce another suggestion for the identity of Jack the Ripper.
Required reading for fans of Victorian crime.