Friday, April 17, 2015

Review of Blacklands by Belinda Bauer (Corgi, 2010)

Twelve year old Steven Lamb lives in small village on the edge of Dartmoor with his mother, younger brother and Gran.  The home is haunted by the memory of Billy Peters who disappeared after visiting the local shop.  Every day Steven’s gran stands guard at the front window waiting for Billy to return.  The rest of the town believes the boy is dead, killed by a serial killer, Arnold Avery, who admitted to killing six other children and burying them on the moor.  Steven believes that if he can locate the body he can heal the rift between his mother and gran and every weekend he treks up on the moor with a spade and searches for Billy’s burial site.  As he starts to lose hope he conceives of a new idea, drafting a letter to Avery seeking his help.  And so begins a cat-and-mouse game as Avery toys with Steven, both re-energised by their exchange of letters.

The strength of Blacklands is the idea of a young boy from a troubled home exchanging letters with the murderer of his uncle in the hope of discovering the location of the body.  It’s a novel take on the crime fiction oeuvre.  Bauer nicely sets up the premise, charting Steven’s unsettled home life, the bullying he receives at school, and his quest to resolve the doubt in his grandmother’s mind as to what happened to her son.  Then she weaves in the perspective of Arnold Avery, a predatory serial killer of children, and how Steven’s letters re-ignites Avery’s psychopathic fantasies.  However, the tale is rather narrow and linear in its telling and having spent so much time setting up the premise and manoeuvring people into place the ending was somewhat underplayed and underwhelming.  This was a shame as the story really does have a great hook.  Nonetheless, an interesting and innovative read.


Anonymous said...

Rob, I have you to thank for introducing me to Belinda Bauer via your 5star review of Rubbernecker. Rubbernecker is still not been released in the States yes so I orderred it from the UK and it was my favorite read of 2013. I've now read 4 of her books including the excellent new book, The Shut Eye which comes closest to capturing the tone and quality of Rubbernecker IMO. I loved it.
Chris Enstad

Cleopatra Loves Books said...

I really admire this author and enjoyed all her books, even the latest, The Shut Eye which I 'd normally have passed on as the subject matter is one I dislike. Great review!

Rob Kitchin said...

Chris, Cleo, thanks for your comments. What I like about the two books I've read by Belinda are that they are so inventive rather than being derivative. That quite refreshing in a genre that can be quite formulaic.

Anonymous said...

Excellent point Rob, I know Belinda never set out to write Crime novels, rather her first book involved a crime and since it won awards it made sense to pursue the genre in her own way. She told me that the delay in publishing Rubbernecker in the states was because her American publisher wanted her to "dumb it down" for American audience which she refused to do. After Rubbernecker won awards they were able to secure a different American publisher, I hope it is marketed well this summer.