The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer

Murder as performance art…

🙂 🙂 🙂

the-beautiful-deadTV reporter Eve Singer is on the crime beat, so she’s called to the scene of a brutal murder committed in the foyer of an office building, just feet from where people are passing by on the pavement outside. This is a murderer who likes to perform his gory crimes in public, and then stage them as if it were some kind of performance art. When he makes contact with Eve, at first it seems like a great thing – she’ll have the exclusive story and it will give her career a much needed boost. But soon she realises that she’s becoming caught up in the murderer’s schemes, almost to the point of becoming an accessory…

First off, let me say that I love Belinda Bauer. And this book has in it many of the things I love her for – the great writing, touches of humour, some nice building of suspense and an original and dramatic climax. However, for me, this isn’t one of her best. It feels derivative – there are touches of Hannibal and Clarice in the relationship between Eve and the killer, and heavy shades of Psycho over the storyline. Perhaps there’s not much new left to say in the serial killer novel – certainly it’s been a while since I read one that felt fresh. But the derivations in this one seemed so blatant that I wondered at points if she was deliberately referencing some of the greats as a kind of inside joke, but if so, it didn’t quite come off, and simply ended up feeling rather unoriginal.

The structure also doesn’t feel up to Bauer’s usual standard. We are given biographies of the characters rather than being allowed to get to know them through the plot – whatever happened to ‘show, don’t tell’? Eve’s father suffers from dementia and this is used partly to give some humour to the book – always tricky with such a sensitive subject and I felt it occasionally passed over into tastelessness. And while I thought the portrayal of his dementia was well done for most of the book, when it became part of the plotting in the later stages it crossed the credibility line and began to feel contrived and inauthentic, and I found myself feeling that this awful disease was being used for entertainment purposes rather than being given the empathy it deserves. The humour didn’t work as well for me as usual, I didn’t take to Eve much, and the amount of lazy swearing throughout became utterly tedious, not to mention Eve’s need to vomit every time a corpse turned up.

Belinda Bauer
Belinda Bauer

On the upside, there are passages where Bauer achieves that delicious feeling of creepiness, for example, when Eve thinks she’s being followed home in the dark, and it does have a great thriller ending which redeemed it a little in my eyes. I was also pleased that this murderer was pretty eclectic in his choice of victims, not exclusively butchering vulnerable young women. But overall, this is one I’m going to put down to an off day, and go back to waiting avidly for her next offering. I’ve given it three stars but, in truth, I think one of those stars is from a mixture of loyalty and the feeling that I may be judging it too harshly because of my perhaps overly high expectations. Because, despite this one, I do love Belinda Bauer. I can’t help wondering in general if the pressure to get a new book out every year is really a good thing in the long run…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Grove Atlantic.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

57 thoughts on “The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer

  1. Hmm….sorry to hear you were a bit disappointed in this one, FictionFan. I know what you mean about derivative, too. Shame, because, as you say, Bauer is so talented. And I’m not sure about the way she uses that dementia, either. I probably will read this at some point – I do like Bauer’s work – but I won’t be rushing out for it.

    • Yes, it’s a pity, but with any author, some of the books are bound to disappoint for one reason or another – often just personal taste. But I do think it would be quite hard to find anything new to the serial killer novel now – it feels as if it’s all been done before… Ho-hum! But as usual loads of people love it, so don’t let me put you off. 🙂

  2. I’ll skip this one. I was a fan of Silence of the Lambs. I didn’t see the Hannibal TV show. But I liked The Blacklist, which features a serial killer and his interesting relationship with an FBI agent. So like others, I’ve had my fill of serial killers.

    • Yes, I loved Silence of the Lambs, and also Val McDermid’s early Tony Hill serial killer novels. But I think it would be hard to find anything fresh to say about serial killers now, and for me this book didn’t manage it, sadly. Oh well! Won’t stop me looking forward to her next book, though!

  3. I had to go look and see if this was one of the books that had a different title on your side of the pond and mine. Apparently not. Which means that I don’t own this, as I thought I might have. This author is one that I’ve had on my list for quite a while and don’t think I’ve read at all yet. Will keep your thoughts in mind. I’m a bit weary of some of the popular themes these days. Not sure what to do about my weariness except perhaps to read more ‘golden’ mysteries or do a spot of rereading. We shall see.

    • This is her newest one, Kay, so only came out this month. I’ve loved a few of her books – Rubbernecker is my favourite, if you happen to have that one. But I’m tired of a lot of the current trends in crime fiction too at the moment and have been reading quite a few of the reissues of “forgotten” authors that the British Library have been doing. And I’m listening to some of the audio versions of Agatha Christie, which is fun. I don’t really expect every author to come up with incredibly original ideas each time, but this one did feel too derivative of some of the classics, I thought…

  4. Overall, I’m not interested in the traditional serial killer books anymore. The only book I’ve read in the last few years that had a serial killer was the Mr Mercedes trilogy by Stephen King and I would say his Brady character wasn’t your typical violent, gory serial killer if that makes sense. I had this book from the library initially but returned it unread and I’m glad I did. I’d have had a huge problem with the dementia as humor angle. Thanks for your honest review, I find that often the 2-3 star reviews are the hardest to write

    • Yes, I feel there’s not a lot left to say about serial killers any more – the last few I’ve read I seem to have been commenting that they felt stale or derivative. Of course, they probably feel fresh to people who haven’t read as many serial killer books as I have! Somehow I think of King as only writing horror – I really must look into him more. I must say I wasn’t happy at all at the dementia being used for humour, or as a plot device – she portrayed it well for the most part, but sometimes it just slid over that line… Yes, I hate giving a less than glowing review to an author I admire… always hard. Hopefully her next book will fully deserve the 5-star treatment!

  5. I can pass on this one, and my TBR thanks you for your honest review, FF! I suspect you’re 100% right in blaming this novel’s shortcomings on a publisher’s press for an author to turn out a new book annually. Guess they haven’t heard that creativity can’t be rushed. All the points that gnawed at you — the inappropriate humor, swearing, etc. — are things that would bother me, too.

    • It seems to be a double-edged thing too – they seem to want books to be both quick and huge. I guess when Agatha Christie was doing a couple of hundred pages, a year might have been OK per book, but when books come in at around 400-500 pages, then they often end up feeling that another couple of drafts would have ironed out some of the issues… I’m so tired of the swearing, vomiting, bodily functions etc etc in books at the moment – apart from anything else I’ve reached a point where I’m scared to read while eating!!

    • Hahaha! That’s because my old mate Lady Fancifull and I are always moaning about the sexism in crime fiction, with the beautiful young girl as perpetual victim motif, and usually a nice titillating bit of nudity somewhere along the line. So someone who also murders older, fully-clothed women and not particularly handsome men feels refreshing… 😉

  6. Ah well, as Bauer is in the ‘not for me’ category anyway, I must just thank you, prettily, for noticing the fact that the bedside table TBR is dreadfully tottering, and the Kindle has a pack of less visible, but still excessive TBRs, so I appreciate your delicacy. Gosh, Dan Evans! That’s a brightener and a half on a dreadful day, isn’t it!. I’m finally reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Which probably isn’t the best choice at this particular moment. Go Murray! Go Evans! Go Konta! Go Rafa! Go Fed! From tomorrow there are highlights on BBC Go BBC!

    • Ah, but what about that eclectic killer?? Nice to see men getting bumped off too for a change… 😉

      Ooh, we’re doing brill in the tennis! I’ve been trying to go nocturnal as usual but my body is refusing to play along for some reason with the result that I’m just napping constantly all day and all night now! I must stop doing this! Ooh, I wonder what you’ll think of The Road! I can’t say I enjoyed reading it exactly, but it’s one of those books that has really stayed in my mind – really made me think, somehow. I still think about it often in fact, and some of the images it’s left me with are totally visual, which doesn’t often happen to me. I only gave it 4 and a half at the time, I think, but for its aftereffects on me it really should have got five… even though parts of the writing drove me bananas.

    • Hahaha! I regret the passing of the good old British Stiff Upper Lip. A simple twitch and perhaps a small groan is more than sufficient, I feel… 😉 (You’re so lucky! I’ve been watching all through the nights – I’m too old for this malarkey! Even the cats are getting fed up with me napping all day…)

      • I like to think I’m capable of a Stiff Upper Lip, but in truth know that I’m not cut out for dead bodies unless they are in a novel!
        Have to admit, I went to bed after Our Dasha got through last night, Rafa’s game ran late. That young fellow he played is a real up and comer.

        • Isn’t he just! There’s a few of the young ones finally making a bit of a breakthrough this year, I think, though none of them are close to replacing Rafa in my heart yet – great to see him back on form! But I wish his matches didn’t happen in the middle of the night! *sighs* Andy’s scheduled for about a 3 a.m. start tonight our time… I need chocolate!!!

          • Oh, what are you doing up now? Set your alarm clock and get a few hours sleep now.
            It’s hot already here this morning so he will be playing in the heat of the day. Tomorrow is supposed to get to 36 degrees but it is even hotter at Melbourne Park, not much breeze around the courts. I spent one of the hottest days of my life there a few years ago, couldn’t wait for the night match to start. Great atmosphere though.

            • Haha! I’ve taken to sleeping during the day instead – Tuppence is seriously befuddled! She likes the idea of afternoon naps, but isn’t so keen on me getting up in the evenings. Huh! Losing a night’s sleep to watch Andy lose wasn’t so much fun though… Vamos, Rafa! I wouldn’t be able to cope with the temperatures over there at all – too Scottish!

  7. A shame a favourite author has let you down. I have had it happen to me and it’s more deflating than just not enjoying a book, or at least I think so.

    • Yes, I agree – and also much harder to review, I find, because I so want to be able to give 5 stars! But I guess not every book is going to work for every reader – hopefully I’ll be able to gush about her next one! 🙂

  8. Aw I’m sad you didn’t enjoy this one more – I love Bauer’s books for her humour and I thought this was particularly well done in this book and I did think she was referencing within the novel – although I followed this up with The Facts of Life and Death which has gone down as one of my favourite crime novels of all time I definitely enjoyed this more than The Shut Eye!

    • I usually love her humour too, and it may just have been because it was about dementia this time – a subject I honestly find it difficult to see any humour in at all – in fact, I generally avoid books with characters with dementia, and only read this one because of how much I normally like Bauer. Isn’t it funny how we all like different things, though? I liked The Facts but loved The Shut Eye. So much of it is just down to personal preference… 🙂

  9. Hmmm, like the surgeon on Doc Martin who can’t stand the sight of blood. Cute trick and not overdone there (at least in the few episodes I’ve seen). Enjoy reading your reviews. It takes a lot for me to actually go out and get a book though. I’ve got quite a TBR thing going…..

  10. I loved Rubbernecker and really liked The Shut Eye (but how sad and creepy it was). I was less enthused about Blacklands. I’m sorry to hear you didn’t like this one as much. I do love her writing — in general I don’t choose to read about murderers, at least not modern-day ones. The Cormoran Strike books are my other exception.

    • Those are the two I loved best too – those little footprints in The Shut Eye! I haven’t read Blacklands though it’s sitting on my Kindle, but I read one of her other early books, and though I liked it I didn’t think it was nearly as good as her more recent ones. Hopefully this one’s just a blip and she’ll be back on top form next time! I also have the first of the Cormoran Strike books on the Kindle – must get to it. I loved HP so much, I’m kinda scared to read her other books, if you know what I mean…

      • I bet you’re the person who told me her earlier books weren’t as good — I’ll hope it’s a blip too. Regarding Cormoran Strike, I find I’m able to read them without thinking about HP because they are completely different (maybe the pseudonym helps a bit too). I’m impressed by her range, since I liked The Casual Vacancy too, also completely different.

        • I really must get over it – I’ve seen so many positive reviews of the Cormoran Strike books. In fact, I got my copy of the first one before it was revealed that Rowling was the writer behind the pseudonym – I wish I’d read it back then and could have judged it without any preconceptions. Ha! I also have a copy of The Casual Vacancy, also unread…!

  11. It was my first book from the author and I tremendously enjoyed it 🙂 I think the journalistic edge had a lot to do with it. Plus I found it very interesting to dive into the killer’s head. I really liked Eve and her cameraman. That scene when she comes home and feels she is being followed was brilliant, for sure. Great review 🙂

    • Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it, Donna – she’s a great writer, even if I wasn’t quite so keen on this one. The scene where she gets followed is so creepy and I loved how she reacted. I bet you’d love her book The Shut Eye…

  12. Nuanced review, FictionFan! Too bad this author didn’t deliver on this particular book. You’re generous to give her an extra star out of loyalty! I’ve done that before though. 🙂 You’re right, it must be so difficult to keep putting out quality material once a year. So few seem to do that.

    • Thank you, Laila! I find it really hard to downrate any book from one of my favourite authors, but this one just didn’t work for me nearly as well as some of her other stuff. However, I’ve seen plenty of rave reviews for it too, so as usual it’s largely down to personal preference. I’d like sometimes to see authors take a bit more time between books, but I suppose even authors have bills to pay…

        • Haha! Yes, a very different type of book! I must say that, although American Psycho is pretty gross and extreme, it’s also very funny – I expected to hate it and ended up loving it!

            • Ha! It’s a good little review. Since you like dark humor, have you read Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh? T2 is coming to American theaters soon, and I CANNOT WAIT! The second book is actually called Porno, but obvious reasons the film is not. It’s also a good book.

            • Gotta admit I haven’t read it, and doubt if I will. The language would put me off, plus I really hate when people show Scotland as some kind of dump full of drunks and junkies – especially people who don’t even live here! Of course there are bits of Scotland like that, but there are bits of everywhere like that. I guess it’s always easier to read fictional representations of other people’s cultures.

            • Ohhhhh, yeah, the language is not you. The focus of the book is very specific: Edinburgh (and later London) at a very specific time when, according to the class I took, twenty-something people were so bored and without direction and focused on Scotland being a colony and the AIDS epidemic, and that the book captured this short time well. I’m totally happy to be wrong on this one, though, as I’m not Scottish, and I can definitely see the irritation at Trainspotting bring the only thing about Scotland people remember.

            • There undoubtedly is a drugs problem in some parts of Scotland but it’s pretty minor in comparison to lots of other places (we prefer to get drunk!), and AIDS hasn’t been huge here either. That’s why I don’t read a huge amount of Scottish fiction – for some reason a lot of authors like to show the very worst of the country, and frankly we are stereotyped enough without Scottish authors joining in! Of course, Welsh doesn’t actually live in Scotland – he lives in Ireland, so I have to doubt he spends a lot of time hanging out in the places he depicts. Gah! Can you tell he gets right up my nose?? 😉

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