This is a sweet mystery published in Britain shortly after the second world war. The moon creates an emotional backdrop as a serial killer claims young female victims under its surreal brightness.
The full moon is celebrated by lovers, poets, and Witches for its divine beneficence, but in folklore it is known as a maleficence, inciting violence, insanity, disturbing dreams, emotional disturbance, and general bad luck. The novel captures the contradictory nature of lunar energy by telling the story through the eyes of two boys, juxtaposing the innocence of childhood with the evil nature of the killings.
Simon and Keith are orphans living with a married brother, and their life circumstances make them closer than most brothers, while ensuring they are less closely supervised than most boys their age. Brother Jack and his wife are viewed by the boys as interfering, authoritarian, and No Fun, though the couple are young themselves to be saddled with responsibility for boys of this age in addition to their new baby. Probably Simon and Keith’s own parents would have paid closer attention to their activities, but the story also evokes a bygone age that emerged around World War II and continued until the nineties, when most children spent large amounts of time outdoors unsupervised, unshackled by extra-curricular activities scheduled by conscientious parents or onerous duties in farms, households, or industries. The imaginative, marginally acceptable, and faintly dangerous escapades of the boys are charming. Seen from their perspective, a dirty canal becomes a mystical landscape; a jumble of rejected items becomes a treasure trove. While adults in the story are sickened and horrified by the murders, the boys see them as high adventure. They do much of their sleuthing in the daytime after school and on holidays, when no one seems to be keeping track of their whereabouts, but they also sneak outside under the full moon to frighten themselves with dangers real and imagined. Childhood cannot discriminate.
The narrator Simon is the older brother, and at thirteen (the lunar number!) he is on the cusp of adulthood. We can expect that solving this mystery will pull him to the other side and make him an adult. The loss of childhood is something that is universally mourned, despite its near-inevitability, but most of us either grow up or die young. The moon emerges out of fantasy and horror as catalyst of maturity.