THE BOY WANTED THE TRUTH. THE KILLER WANTED TO PLAY… Twelve-year-old Steven Lamb digs holes on Exmoor, hoping to find a body. Every day after school and at weekends, while his classmates swap football stickers, Steven digs to lay to rest the ghost of the uncle he never knew, who disappeared aged 11 and is assumed to have fallen victim to the notorious serial killer Arnold Avery.
Only Steven’s Nan is not convinced her son is dead. She still waits for him to come home, standing bitter guard at the front window while her family fragments around her. Steven is determined to heal the widening cracks between them before it’s too late. And if that means presenting his grandmother with the bones of her murdered son, he’ll do it.
So the boy takes the next logical step, carefully crafting a letter to Arnold Avery in prison. And there begins a dangerous cat-and-mouse game between a desperate child and a bored serial killer…
I managed to kill two birds with one stone here. Blacklands will probably end up being my one sole female author read this month, but hey one is a bit more than zero isn’t it and Blacklands was also an award winning book, insofar as Bauer bagged the CWA Gold Dagger in 2010 for this impressive debut.
I think this ticked a lot of boxes for me without actually setting me ablaze. It had an interesting, if slightly unbelievable plot. It had a sympathetic main character who at times I wanted to shout at for his passivity in the face of peer conflict. And who at other times, I wanted to smother with support, love, friendship and comfort in the lack of all the aforementioned being forthcoming from his own family. At times Steven cut a heart-breaking, solitary figure in the face of such indifference from those who should have known better. Bauer made me pause and think about my own relationships and whether I always meet the standards of behaviour, I was so quick to judge others by.
Steven’s adversary in the book, Arnold Avery was well-drawn. Clever, interesting, organised and skilled but conversely cold, callous, manipulative and murderous, Avery was shown by Bauer to be human, with qualities as well as defects. More real and frightening for this, rather than being sketched and portrayed as a cartoonish bogeyman with just a dark side.
I was away over the weekend with my better half and still managed to devour the 350 pages in two days, spent sightseeing abroad. A two hour flight helped, as did an afternoon on the beach, albeit some of it spent dozing, but it was testimony to the quality of the prose and the way the plot unfolded quickly that the end seemed to approach in no time at all.
This was my first taste of the author, but on this showing not my last, although unusually for me there is nothing else of hers on the pile waiting.
4 stars from 5 and a strong contender for my book of the month. Why only 4? Just a slight suspension of belief over the premise of a 12 year old being able to communicate with a convicted paedophile. No stunning, amazing 5 star reads for me just yet in July, though there’s still a week to go!
I obtained my copy by swapping another book, on the money saving Readitswapit website a couple of months ago.