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.
Stephen is a middle-aged college lab technician whose sudden fits of rage stem from more than dissatisfaction with his lot. He has a wife and family, a house and job, but he is a haunted man, his marriage crumbling under the weight of a dreadful secret.
At length the dam breaks, he punches his superior and is suspended from college. Drifting, hearing that his mother is ill, he returns to the distant home that he was forced to leave thirty years ago, aged twelve. He has built a new life, changed his name, tried to block out the past; now hemust face the townsfolk who have their own terrible memories and would rather he stayed away.
The story jumbles time and space, starting with the eighties and a happy childhood: exploring the countryside with his best friend, fishing, rabbiting with his soldier father when he comes home on leave from various wars. Although this is Stephen’s story it’s his mother who holds the family together: the daughter bullied at school, the father absent for long periods until he comes back from the Falkland Islands, having witnessed the sinking of the Galahad. He returns to demobilisation and the horrors of battle fatigue. The family appear to take his condition in their stride but under the surface tension mounts, exacerbated rather than eased by a helpful Irish builder.
The pace quickens unbearably until that golden summer’s afternoon when Stephen gets down from the school bus, excited at the coming tryst with his girl, to walk through an empty town where the only signs of people are an overturned push chair, a bag of spilled groceries, and a mound covered by a grey blanket. The climax is brief, simple and literally incredible until you remember that basically it has happened in reality.
A disturbing book about an abomination all too easy to understand because we have the questions but we have the answers too. That Dark Remembered Day sends one hotfoot to find Vowler’s first book: What Lies Within.