I’ve been reading crime fiction for years – since I was a child, in fact. In that time I’ve read some excellent books as well as some not quite so good. Some of them, though, live with you after the book is closed because of the subject matter or excellent writing. One of those is Out of the Blackout by Robert Barnard.
Robert Barnard is a writer whose books were often seen in libraries or in discounted bookshops and I was never quite sure why. They fall at the easy reading end of the crime spectrum but they are witty and clever and much more complex in thought than you would imagine. A number of them rise well above the average and this book is one of those.
The novel was written in 1985 and tells the story of Simon, a child evacuated from London to the country during the war. When he arrives it appears that he is on no lists and cannot be properly identified. As an adult, Simon tries to trace his birth family and establish his identity because he wants to know why he was abandoned. In the process he finds out that there has been murder in the family.
I suppose that this isn’t a fast paced book and nor is it very gory. The crime of the book is really the abandonment of the child and not the murder that he uncovers. The book is very well plotted and Simon’s journey of discovery always seems plausible. You understand why he needs to know and how he becomes drawn into the search and also why he is unable to leave it alone even when what he discovers is scary. What I also like is the fact that Simon doesn’t turn out to be a hidden aristocrat or the heir to a missing fortune but that his birth family are very ordinary people with quite sordid motivations.
I highly recommend this novel which I think is underrated (my mother-in-law agrees with me). I also suggest that you consider reading some of this author’s crime novels if you have never done so – do not be led astray by how easy they are to read and enjoy the plotting and the examination of class, motivation and modern culture.