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Oh, we do like to find good début authors at It’s a Crime! And today sees the official publication of Belinda Bauer’s Blacklands.
Set on Exmoor, Blacklands is a tale of psychological suspense involving two people in a game of cat and mouse. However, the cards may not be considered randomly stacked as one of the pair is a twelve year old boy and the other is an adult serial killer/paedophile. So what is the link? Steven, the boy, is growing up in a household with more pressures than most of his age experience, as a dark cloud constantly hovers over his family.
‘Steven’s nan looked out of the window with a steady gaze.
‘She had started life as Gloria Manners. Then she became Ron Peters’s wife. After that, she was Lettie’s mum, then Lettie and Billy’s mum. Then for a long time she was Poor Mrs Peters. Now she was Steven’s nan. But underneath she would always be Poor Mrs Peters; nothing could change that, not even her grandsons.’
Steven’s Uncle Billy went missing one day, thought to be a victim of the now detained, adult Arnold Avery, but his body was never found. Steven has taken to digging up parts of Exmoor in the hope of locating his lost uncle, but one day he decides on a direct approach and starts to communicate with Avery by letter.
Blacklands is very rich in character depiction. Steven makes for a sympathetic protagonist as we read his story from his point of view. He is a good boy, but subject to misunderstandings and the misplaced directions of the adults around him, living on limited means. We also learn of his experiences as a victim of bullying and of being the ‘big brother’. He tries to forge a relationship with an adult male, but with his mother’s love life, this proves to be difficult and subject to disappointment. Above all, as the elder son and grandson, he is not his Uncle Billy and cannot replace him, and finding Billy becomes his goal. Learning to correspond with a now-institutionalised serial killer is another matter entirely.
If you seek an excellent début this year, don’t miss this one. Bauer could prove to be competition for Minette Walters in the psychological suspense sub-genre, where she takes the ‘normal’ and ‘simple’ facts of life and examines them in another dimension.
[With thanks to Transworld for the proof copy, from which the quote is taken.]