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 suggestive cover below the sinister title warns of crimes against children, and in Austria this time. The reader cringes, anticipating and dreading something different but after a terrifying introduction the alpine setting is slowly, lightly, even humorouosly established through the voices of various people with varying views.
The main characters are a delight: Horn, a psychiatrist, clever, imaginative, a super neurotic with family problems who watches birds and is encumbered with a sick cat. He is offset by the cop Kovacs: star gazer, angler, well respected in his multi-ethnic community where his close friend is a Moroccan restauranteur, his sometimes enforcer a Turkish drug baron. Around psychiatrist and cop revolve their colleagues in hospital and cop shop, the interaction between police and medics entertaining and plausible, and this apart from their fraught domestic relationships with wives and mistresses, children and neighbours.
The dark side is the thread of child abuse. Terrified but mute children are brought to the hospital; scenes of doctors and police interspersed with strange ramblings from the mind of a racontuer who could be guardian or avenging angel or just plain mad, perhaps all of these. Obviously there is abuse: there are the bruised children; there has to be pornography; there are the cameras above the mattresses, but where - and who is the perpetrator?
This is a modern mystery: a neat and dovetailed wodunnit whose clues lurk in the involved lives and convoluted minds of most usual suspects. The reader is never sure of the location of red herrings nor indeed of their existence. An uncomfortable read that challenges the concepts of Good and Evil and so, conclusively, of Normality.
Translated by Jamie Bulloch.