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.
Cassandra Neary, once famed photographer, has suffered trauma since the age of four when she survived a car crash that killed her mother. Through childhood and teens to maturity her life spiralled downwards by way of drugs and rape, alcoholism and the death of her lover in the Twin Towers. In her thirties, addicted to crystal meth and Jack Daniels, she accepts a commission to interview an aged photographer on an island off the coast of Maine.
Street-wise Neary may be – in Tony Lamas with steel toe caps – but on a bleak island in the American equivalent of the Outer Hebrides, she has to adapt. Menace lurks (posters regarding missing cats, the disappearance of a young man) and there are hints of pagan rituals, variously attributed to locals – shades of Wicker Man – or to ancient hippies gone to earth in houses fashioned out of flotsam. Neary’s reclusive quarry is one such, an alcoholic attended by three massive deerhounds.
There is a motel of sorts, the daughter of the house, studded and spiked, pleading pitifully for a ride to New York only hours before, like the young man on the flyers, she too vanishes.
Initially action seems innocuous, characters stoned to the eyeballs; there is crazy vituperation from the recluse, feline foreplay on the part of Neary and an alluring stranger, both so haunted by their ghastly pasts to act naturally and jump into bed.
Suspense escalates. The hippies played dangerous games when young but age coupled with lethal chemicals have led to horrors beyond the dreams of the Manson family. And yet there is a point when you realize that the foul language and drug-induced hallucinations have dropped away. Neary, floundering in the pit, has found a life-line, but it comes with a price and leads to a climax of incandescent savagery. Not one for the faint-hearted.