Written by Lynda La Plante

Review written by Gwen Moffat

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.

Zaffre Publishing
RRP: £14.99
Released: April 2 2020

A twisted police procedural, not bent so much as skewed. The action starts simply, almost hackneyed with a fire in a remote cottage, but then there’s a body melded to the sofa springs in the parlour, followed by around two million pounds in old money all but consumed in the grate. The cottage had recently been occupied until her death by a retired cop from the mounted division.

The police have problems. This place is only a short distance from the site of an audacious train robbery 25 years ago when the criminals got away with thirty million, none of which was recovered – until now. The remains in the hearth are found to be part of that original haul. 28 million is still missing.

The compulsion to find it is equalled only by the imperative for the police to protect their own. As if it wasn’t enough to have a mounted officer involved – and the train had been held up by a rider on horseback – the body in the cottage appears to be that of yet another cop.

An investigative team is assembled: in the field a solid, old-school man, DCI Ridley; under him a female sergeant hopelessly in love with one, DC Warr, who is aiming for a sergeant’s stripes as is his rival, Anik. Anik is volatile and accident-prone while Warr is ambitious and pliable, torn between his job and his partner. There is a sub plot involving Warr’s father dying of cancer: disruptive and poignant inserts to complicate Warr’s increasingly stressful life.

There is not a great deal of current action, that was mainly in the colourful past. The infamous train robbery was one of several crimes where it was suspected that the same people were involved.  There was a diamond heist that went wrong with the result that a lovely girl – probably a catspaw - was shot dead. There was another bungled robbery in an underpass and an explosion in which the leading gangster was killed, to be buried with relief and plaudits from cops and criminals, only to be shot by his own wife nine months later. Dolly Rawlins did time for this last murder. Released, she joined fellow ex-cons to start a home for distressed children in what had been a brothel in a large country house. A quarter century later many of these relevant suspects are dead while of those still alive some are in limbo, more or less; others are ostensibly clean and all are wily.

Working backwards from the two million in burnt notes, the police have the daunting task of linking those old crimes and finding the ageing perpetrators: investigations designed to lead them to the killer of the man in the cottage. The stakes are high.  Kudos for the upper ranks and sergeant’s stripes for either Warr or Anik: all dependent on recovering 28 million pounds, and the apprehension of those who have made themselves the ultimate beneficiaries of it.

This story comes over in short bursts, easy to read and presented in a rambling and often repetitive style of English as she is spoke. Cops and robbers plot their devious counter campaigns; survivors all but some more competent than others: those being the ones who have the temerity and the confidence to make their own rules.

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