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.
A heatwave in Paris and outside the Georges Pompidou Centre a man awaits the arrival of a lad who seems to be mute.
Although presented neutrally these two are obviously important characters but whether victims or villains is ambiguous until the end. Commandant Serge Morel, the detective who tracks them down – to penalize or protect – is a simpler soul: a single man with a deep regard for humanity and aware of his own short comings: towards his lovers, former and current, in respect of his aged father, even his attitude towards gauche and streetwise Lila, the youngest member of his team. We meet these last at the scene of a suspicious death: a widow discovered in her bed, washed and laid out, wearing grotesque make-up, swaddled in the sheets – and Fauré’s Requiem on the CD player.
The pace of investigation is slow. Door-stepping turns up no strangers other than two evangelists: an older man and a boy. Here, in view of the Prologue and alternating chapters, the reader is ahead of the cops and remains so throughout, although only to a degree.
After a second murder the investigation goes public and it transpires that two more elderly widows have been visited by the odd couple. Connections surface; all four recently attended an exhibition of Soviet art, and one woman thought the boy was Russian. His companion’s background is revealed (but only to the reader): his childhood and education culminating in a year’s teaching in Moscow where he adopted a mute orphan.
With such revelations Quiery seems to be giving the game away because on one level this purports to be a whodunit but revelations go so far and stop, deepening the mystery. This is a psychological novel, more Vine than Rendell, but at heart it is a feverish love story imbued with horror, and one is left with the sneaky conclusion that although innocent old women died the injustice of that pales before the obscenities of the lying-down room.
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