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.
"Scorcher" Kennedy, Irish Detective Sergeant, tells it in the first person: an arrogant bastard, good cop, and carrying enough baggage to stock a warehouse, he blames himself for his mother's suicide and has assumed full responsibility for his disturbed kid sister who suffers a breakdown just as he is handed a hideous case. Father and two small children have been stabbed to death, the mother surviving but in a coma.
The full complement of CID and Forensics involved is nicely differentiated but the two leading investigators, Kennedy and his rookie colleague, Curran, are
brilliantly depicted. Broken Harbour itself is more a character than a setting; once a fishing village, a housing estate was partially built before recession hit and the money ran out. Now it's a modern ghost town: a few jerry-built houses among derelict buildings haunted by delinquent youths and unidentified animals, lapped by a sea that appears animate and malign. Given redundancy, dwindling resources and the middle class shame of failure Broken Harbour produces very disturbed minds.
This is a departure from the sex-and-violence school. The crime has happened before the start, and despite the shadow of incest hovering at one point it is a book that is curiously sexless. It is about families and disintegration: the reader transported, increasingly aware that Kennedy is getting it wrong, that Curran, the rookie, is on the right track, and then comes a twist -- and the reader starts to distrust even himself. The wounded mother comes out of her coma and all the pieces click into place, and everyone is at fault. Even then there's one last turn and Kennedy, the arrogant bastard who has been driven to extremes of intimidation and cruelty, emerges a wily fox, flawed but forgivable. Involvement is compulsive.