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.
Next to Die opens with an unidentified person indulging a hair fetish and continues so for four hundred pages, the hirsute element repeated every time a victim appears. Five murders have occurred already, currently there are four missing girls and counting.
Sam Parker is a cop on the side of the angels, his brother, Joe, a defence lawyer (the one who gets the killers off) which suggests he’s on the other side. Having said that the brothers are curiously and unhappily united, haunted by the murder of their own sister fifteen years ago.
The search for a serial killer is the plot, its climax the abduction of the brothers’ remaining sister culminating in the urgency to reach her before she becomes the next victim.
Narrative switches between cop and lawyer, suspects and psychopaths, resulting in some confusion when the villains are not identified. Manchester is the setting, here a dull city without character, echoing the essence of the brothers. Portrayal of the criminals furthers the impression of a novel written by a legal expert struggling to imbue his creations with flesh and blood. Joe’s instructions to his assistant read like a training manual, a feature which adds a spark of interest, and the introduction of grooming children by way of the internet is timely but considering the work as a whole one is left with the impression that the author would do better to concentrate on the day job, to lose a few thousand words and cut the body count to a manageable size.