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.
1990 and a child dies in a grand colonial house on a tropical island. The mother is distraught, another woman bothered by guilt, her Russian partner concerned only with his involvement in some momentous crime.
Twenty two years later an ex-cop turned private investigator, ostensibly serving a writ on a Russian tycoon in London, runs into deep trouble. Tom Lomax is accident-prone. Shortly he receives a summons from a stranger to fly to a tropical island, all expenses paid. As he flies east, behind him in London a bereft mother is obsessed by grief on the anniversary of the abduction of her baby over two decades ago. Here are four scenarios, apparently unconnected, although there are hints and clues (tropical island, Russians). The reader’s curiosity lies in the links. But with Lomax’s arrival on the island all clues are smothered by action: first, the sex interest as Lomax discovers that Sara Eaton, his new employer, is young, beautiful and distressed, secondly, by violence as the house is attacked by Somali pirates led by a Russian hitman. The motivation is kidnap but Sara’s no wimp; she has a pilot’s license and is handy with a rifle. After killing and wounding some of their attackers the couple escape in her seaplane.
A classic hunt is signalled, Lomax and Sara the foxes, chased by not one pack of hounds but by several. They reach Belgium in a vain attempt to find Sara’s mother, only to become involved in more violent deaths which result in their being sought as murder suspects by the Belgian police. They are convinced the kidnappers are on their trail but they escape to England on a private yacht to find that not only are the British cops alerted but that the kidnappers have caught up with them. And now there is more than one set of criminals. Betrayal and double dealing is the order of the day.
The book can be viewed in thirds: the first establishing the scene: a number of mysteries so complicated that, despite the title, you can’t see how the abducted baby is involved. The centre is the hunting of the couple, now aided by Lomax Senior, the plot somewhat clarified by the revelation that the original crime of an abducted child has spawned many murders in the pursuit of a fabulous fortune. And in this, the middle of the book, mysteries are explained and questions answered by villains, victims and investigators so that the story is no longer a whodunit because what we haven’t been told we can guess. A question remains – and the suspense: how are Lomax and Sara going to get out of this?
The denouement, in the basic sense of elucidation, is prolonged but by no means pedestrian, neatly spiced with the action to climax originally in a huge mothballed container depot on the lower reaches of the Thames. Surprisingly, considering the emphasis on greed, there is an epilogue that reverts to the original crime of child abduction and the dreadful consequences for those left to grieve.