CORGI, £7.99 Order for £7.59 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Blacklands, By Belinda Bauer
Debut novel with the killer instinct
Monday 25 January 2010
Belinda Bauer brings two great attributes to an often-exploited genre, the novel of crimes against children. First, much of her story is told from a child's viewpoint. In so much fiction of this kind, a child is a mere hook on which to hang the story.
But Bauer's 12-year-old Steven has such a convincing voice that the reader can really feel for the suffering of this boy in a sad family. It has experienced the dread of a having a small son go missing, with the probability that he has been murdered. The novel portrays the painful long-term effects of such a tragedy: the semi-neglect of a remaining child, the emotional hardening of the adults, and above all the "lack of closure" which afflicts the mother.
Steven determines to try to find the body of long-lost Billy, at first by digging almost at random on Exmoor, then by a much more dangerous stratagem. He contacts the man most likely to have been the killer, a prisoner serving a life sentence for the murder of other children. Steven, who grows up before our eyes as we see him beginning to understand the adult world, becomes not only a potential victim, but a determined aggressor, perhaps the killer's nemesis.
Bauer also demonstrates an uncanny ability to get under the skin of that other essential character in crime fiction: the murderer. Whether Arnold Avery, a cunning and cold-blooded lifer, is based on a realistic picture is not the point – although Bauer seems to have done her research thoroughly. What matters is that her portrait of the psychopath chills the blood. The reader is fully gripped by the battle of wits between Arnold and Steven, at first in coded letters and then, after a prison riot allows Arnold to break out and roam the moor, in a hunt which doesn't allow one to put the book down. Bauer's first novel shows an extraordinary power of imagination and, vital in crime fiction, the ability to create fear and empathy in the reader.
Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 National Orgasm Day: Six reasons (plus one bogus one) why they're good for us
- 2 The 'world's most beautiful vagina' has been debunked by science
- 3 John Green schools morning show hosts after awkward interview with Cara Delevingne
- 4 Doctor Who: Christopher Eccleston says why he left the BBC series after just one series
- 5 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper dies: Wrestling legend dies aged 61, according to reports
Why Harry Potter's aged 35, not 26
Frank Ocean, where's that new album at?
'Some bloke raps': Read Graham Coxon's woefully out of touch description of Kanye West's music
Jon Snow: Kit Harington spotted in Belfast where Game of Thrones season 6 is filming
Drake responds to Meek Mill's 'diss' track 'Wanna Know' by laughing at the rapper on Instagram
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn says 'we can learn a great deal from Karl Marx'
Is Britain really full up? Are migrants taking our jobs? Leading academic answers the most common anti-immigration claims
Calais Migrant Crisis: Deputy Mayor of Calais labels Cameron's use of 'swarm' as 'racist' and 'ignorant'
Public anger after French sunbather beaten up by gang for wearing a bikini in Reims park
Labour leadership: New poll shows party is now even 'less electable' than under Ed Miliband