I think that Blacklands by Belinda Bauer is the only crime book I have read in January which is not part of a series. I am sure that there are many standalone crime novels but I didn’t have too many on my to-be-read shelves which is where the books for this challenge have come from.
This novel is a powerful and atmospheric read which kept me up just a little too late one evening in order to see what happened at the end. The book centres around Steven, a twelve year old boy, whose uncle disappeared as a child and was probably murdered by a child killer operating in the area although he never admitted to this and nor was Billy’s body ever found. The missing child and his unknown fate have destroyed Steven’s family. His mother and grandmother are poor and dysfunctional and have trouble caring for Steven. Steven is convinced that if he can only find his uncle’s body his family will be repaired.
Steven spends his time fruitlessly digging holes on Exmoor and avoiding the local bullies. He develops the conviction that he will be a hero if he discovers the body and so he writes to the killer asking him to disclose the location. This is quite an unusual premise but the author helps you to understand why Steven might do what he then does. Some of this book is written from Steven’s point of view and some from that of the killer. The author makes each point of view different and equally valid and you need both to understand what is happening.
This is a slow but compelling read. Everyone in this book is flawed to one extent or another and the author does not seek to excuse or even explain what the bullies and others do. Steven is not an exceptional child and nor is he always a particularly nice one but he is trying to make sense of the world as he knows it with minimal input from the adults in his life. The killer is chillingly portrayed and his total lack of any concern or feeling for anyone other than himself explains what happens.
I highly recommend this novel. I understand that the author has written other standalone crime novels and I will seek some of those out to see if they are written to the same high standard as this title.
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