Monday, August 6, 2018

Review of The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer (Batham Press, 2016)

Eve Singer is a TV crime reporter for iWitness News, constantly seeking out scoops for her demanding boss that gives the station fresh angles and the edge over their rivals. She’s also a carer for her father who has dementia and there are plenty of other wannabe reporters waiting to take her place if she can’t handle the pressure. And lately Eve feels like she’s about to crack under the strain. Her life though is about to get a lot more complicated. A killer has started to murder seemingly random strangers in London and he’s singled out Eve to cover his ‘performances’. She’s as desperate for the exclusive inside track as he is for the media attention. Unwittingly, Eve is providing the stage that the killer craves, as well as being the leading lady in the performance. With the police desperately trying to stop the murders and the pressure mounting the question is whether the 'actor-director' and 'actress-reviewer' will survive the finale.

Belinda Bauer has carved out a niche for producing original, thoughtful crime fiction that skirts tropes and genre conventions. In this outing she gives a fresh spin on the serial killer tale, sold with the tag-line: ‘He might kill her. She might let him.’ Her investigator is Eve Singer, a TV news crime reporter who is struggling to balance caring for her ill father with the pressure of a 24 hour news cycle. The killer is a failed artist and transplant recipient who sees his victims’ deaths as both extending his own life and an exhibition displaying the beauty of death. Despite Eve’s revulsion and fear, she and the killer seem to form a symbiotic relationship – she makes her living seeking scoops on gory crimes and he craves attention for his performances. As much as Eve would like to drop the story and try and stop the murders, she is compelled to not only cover them but participate in the performances. The story then follows the twisted relationship between the killer and news reporter, operating at two levels: first, tracking the unfolding of the murders; second, providing social commentary on crime news reporting and the pressures on female reporters. In terms of the former, while it took me a little while to be fully hooked into the tale, Bauer nicely ratchets up the tension and provides plenty of twists and turns as the killer outwits Eve, the police, and the public, leading to a dramatic denouement. Overall, a compelling, entertaining and thought-provoking tale that would make a great thriller movie.

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