The Facts of Life and Death by Belinda Bauer

Daddy’s gone a-huntin’…

😀 😀 😀 😀

the facts of life and deathLittle Ruby Trick lives with her parents in a broken-down cottage called The Retreat in the tiny village of Limeburn in Devon. With the forest encroaching on one side and the sea threatening on the other, Limeburn is not the idyllic English village of fiction. This is a rain-soaked, muddy place, barely putting up a fight any longer against the forces of nature that are slowly crushing it into extinction. And Ruby’s family is under as much threat as her home – with Daddy long out of work and no longer making much effort to do anything about it, while Mummy works full time and worries about money and Ruby’s welfare. Daddy’s much more fun, though – he’s a part-time cowboy in the local Gunslingers club and spoils plump little Ruby with Mars Bars and chips. So Ruby always takes Daddy’s side against Mummy and would do anything to keep his love. Including helping him hunt a serial killer…

By day, it was easy to forget that the trees and the ocean were lying in wait…But by night Ruby could feel the tides tugging at her belly, while the forest tested The Retreat, squealing against the glass and tapping on the tiles.

And she wondered what it would be like – when the outside finally broke in.

This book starts off slowly by introducing us to Ruby’s life. The descriptions of the village and its life are vivid and extremely topical given the amount of rain and flood damage the country has been suffering recently for real. And the constant threat of natural disaster combines with the isolation of the village to provide a nicely chilling backdrop for a story that suddenly darkens into something much more disturbing than the first few chapters might suggest. Because somewhere in this area of Devon, a man is beginning on a course of action that will eventually turn him into a serial killer; as the tagline says – every killer has to start somewhere. And this killer starts by abducting a young woman, then forcing her to phone her mother and tell her goodbye. As the attacks mount, John Trick and his fellow Gunslingers decide to hunt down the killer themselves, and Ruby gets the chance to join their ‘posse’…

Bauer has given us an original twist on the serial killer novel and writes with all her usual skill. The main adult characters are very well developed – we see them through Ruby’s eyes but Bauer manages to give us enough information so that our interpretation of their actions is different from hers. However I felt the structure of the book wasn’t as tight as Bauer’s plots have been in the past, meaning that most of the surprises were revealed well before the thriller-like ending.

Belinda Bauer
Belinda Bauer

Bauer has given us a child’s eye view in some of her earlier books, and is no less effective in this one in taking us into the mind of 10-year-old Ruby. But I must admit that I got fairly tired of all the Mummy/Daddy stuff as the book wore on, especially since Bauer mainly kept the language and sentence structure very much at the level of a fairly immature 10-year-old’s. It’s very well done and I admire the skill, but for my personal taste I don’t want to read vast swathes of over-simplified language and the half-understanding that a child’s viewpoint inevitably gives if it is to be convincing. I did also wonder if many of today’s 10-year-olds are quite as naïve as Ruby seems to be.

I feel I’m being hyper-critical of a book that overall I thought was very readable and enjoyed quite a lot. Bauer’s last book Rubbernecker was one of my favourites of last year and I suspect that’s making me judge this one more harshly than I should, because it didn’t quite live up to my perhaps too-high hopes for it. However, that still leaves it as a very good thriller with some novel twists, strong characterisation and a beautifully-evoked setting.

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22 thoughts on “The Facts of Life and Death by Belinda Bauer

    • It’s very good – I think you’ll enjoy it. No, not read any Vargas though I’ve seen loads of very positive reviews. I’m reluctant to try any more new crime authors at the moment due to too many of them being graphic and gratuitous though, and I can’t tell whether she falls into that category…I think they should bring in some kind of labelling like they do for food ‘Foul language: moderate. Torture: low. Naked woman count: high, but mostly dead ones.’ 😉

  1. FictionFan – Oh, I’ve been hearing some good things about this one. And Bauer really is good at getting in characters’ heads so to speak. I like the way she builds suspense too. I’m sorry to hear this didn’t quite hit the heights of Rubbernecker for you, but still, it sounds like a good read.

    • It’s always difficult to follow something as good as ‘Rubbernecker’ was – expectations become very high. But though this didn’t match that standard, it’s still a very good crime/thriller. 🙂

  2. Lovely review! I think it’s fine to be highly critical, dadblameit! And this one does sound interesting. I didn’t expect that sort of storyline at all. It’s a wonder. Was it brutal?

  3. Try as I might I can’t like Bauer’s work and this doesn’t sound as though it’s going to be the one to win me over. Oh well, this time next year there will probably be another chance to become a convert.

    • I don’t know if you read ‘Rubbernecker’ but I thought that one took her to a different level in terms of both writing quality and plotting. With this one she’s slipped back a bit to the level of her previous ones – so if you weren’t keen on them then I really doubt you’d enjoy this one either. Generally I quite enjoy her books, but am finding the child’s POV getting a bit tired now…I thought she’d moved on from that with ‘Rubbernecker’ but she’s reprised it in this one, and with a younger child at that. Maybe next time…

    • Yes, it’s become one of those fashions that seem to sweep the book world every so often, but it’s hard for an author to make it sound authentic while not losing the interest of an adult audience…

      • Stephen King does that well.

        I’m reading Swan Song by Robert McCammon. It’s one of those apocalyptic stories where there are only a few survivors. It was kind of run of the mill until one-third of the way through he introduced a supernatural element. It was well done, and my interest, which was waning, picked up again. One of the elements was a young girl. He did a great job of making it so natural that I was not really surprised. It was just what was wanted at the point.

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