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.
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rarest Beanie Baby bought for just £10 at car boot sale could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 2 Katie Hopkins and The Sun editor David Dinsmore reported to police for incitement to racial hatred following migrant boat column
- 3 Giorgio Armani criticises the way some gay men dress saying 'a man has to be a man'
- 4 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
- 5 Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Star Wars 7: George Lucas admits he hasn't seen The Force Awakens trailer
Star Wars: Rogue One trailer: Watch the teaser for the Jedi-less Death Star heist film
Avengers Age of Ultron 'after credits' scene leaks online days before cinema release
Groundhog Day musical to premiere at Old Vic from Matilda theatre director
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate