Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review: BLACKLANDS by Belinda Bauer

British author Belinda Bauer burst onto the scene a few years ago with this CWA Gold Dagger-winning tale of a naïve but determined 12-year old investigating the long-ago disappearance of his uncle - an event that decades later still hangs over his working class family like a choking mist.

Fatherless Steven Lamb feels overlooked by his struggling mother and his emotionally crippled Nan, who still waits by the window for her son, Steven’s uncle Billy, to come home, more than twenty years after many people think the 11-year-old was snatched, murdered, and buried somewhere on Exmoor by notorious child killer Arnold Avery. While Steven’s schoolmates hang out and swap football stickers, he spends his afternoons and weekends digging the moor, hoping to uncover his uncle’s body and allow his family to heal and move on. Getting desperate, Steven decides to ask the only person that might know where Uncle Billy was buried. He writes to Avery, who’s spent 18 years behind bars, kick-starting a dangerous cat and mouse game with the bored paedophile.

On its surface, Blacklands is a deceptively simple story, yet Bauer imbues it with layers; fully-realised characters struggling at the margins of society, a well-evoked sense of both the wild beauty of the moors, and the ongoing effects on a family and community of horrific crime, long after the headlines have faded.

Note: Bauer has today won the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award for RUBBERNECKER. Congratulations Belinda. I realised that although I had reviewed Belinda's debut, BLACKLANDS in print a few years ago, I hadn't yet published a review here on Crime Watch. 

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