Snap by Belinda Bauer

Curate’s egg…

🙂 🙂 🙂

When eleven-year-old Jack and his two younger sisters are left in their broken-down car while their mother goes off to phone for help, Jack is left in charge. This is a responsibility that will weigh heavily on him over the next few years when first his mother never returns and then later his father too disappears. Meantime Catherine While, heavily pregnant with her first child, is terrified when a burglar leaves a knife beside her pillow with a note that says simply: I could have killed you. For reasons of her own, Catherine decides to tell neither her husband Adam nor the police about this episode – a decision she will learn to regret.

Following the outcome of his last case, The Shut Eye, DCI Marvel has been shunted out of the Met, and isn’t best pleased when he ends up in the countryside – not his natural habitat. He’s even more annoyed when the first case that’s handed to him is to investigate a series of burglaries by a perpetrator codenamed Goldilocks. Marvel sees himself as a murder detective and feels his talents are being wasted. But he gets his wish anyway, as he is soon involved in investigating the unsolved murder of Jack’s mother…

I suspect my reading of lots of compact, tightly plotted classic crime recently has made me even less tolerant than before of the over-padding of much contemporary crime fiction. This book unfortunately takes about half its length to reveal what it’s going to be about, and as soon as it does the whodunit along with the how become pretty obvious, so that the second half is mostly spent waiting to see how Bauer is going to handle the ending. The motive is still left to be uncovered which means that it maintains some suspense, though, and there are some little side mysteries along the way that add interest; and Bauer’s writing is always laced with a nice mixture of dark and light so that in the pacier parts it’s an entertaining read. But I found that I was skipping entire pages at about the thirdway point – never a good sign! – because I was tired of the endless, rather repetitive setting up and wanted to get to the bit where the two threads finally came together as it was obvious they would, and we found out what the book was actually going to be about.

Belinda Bauer

Unfortunately I also found I had lots of credibility issues with too many aspects of the book, from the idea of Jack managing to hold his family together in the way he does, to Catherine’s reasons for not saying anything about the threats she’s receiving, to Marvel’s policing methods. I tried my best, though, to switch off my disbelief and go with the flow. And, happily, from about halfway through when the two stories finally begin to converge, it becomes a more interesting read, and I found that finally I was turning pages quickly for the right reasons. The pace improves and there’s quite a lot of Bauer’s usual humour in the interactions between the various police officers on the case. Bauer is always great at making her child characters feel believable, and she does here too with Jack, even though I found his actions less than credible. While the main storyline itself heads on a straight line to exactly where one expects, there’s an intriguing subplot in the second half that kept my interest. But, unfortunately, the thrillerish ending fell off the credibility tightrope again.

So, although there are some enjoyable aspects of the book once it picks up speed, the slowness of the first half combined with the requirement to suspend disbelief more than I could manage left me feeling that it’s not really close to her best.

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

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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.

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The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer

Petrona Remembered…

 

The Shut Eye

Today’s review is appearing on the blog Petrona Remembered.

Petrona was the blog name of Maxine Clarke, a stalwart of the crime fiction blogging community until her death in 2012. I didn’t know her personally, but I hadn’t been blogging for long before I discovered how highly regarded she was both in the blogosphere and as one of Amazon UK’s top reviewers. It’s an honour therefore to contribute a review to the blog set up and run in her memory. I hope you’ll pop over to see my review and, while you’re there, you’ll find great recommendations from many other crime fiction bloggers, each of whom have selected a book that they think Maxine would have enjoyed. Don’t forget to follow – there’s a new recommendation from a different blogger every month.

Since the plot of my recommendation involves missing children, given my comments on last week’s review of The Winter Foundlings, you’ll also get to see how completely inconsistent I am when it comes to books – in the end, it’s all down to the quality of the writing… 😉

 

The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer reviewed on Petrona Remembered

 

 

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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Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

Grisly, macabre and gloriously blackly funny…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

RubberneckerPatrick is a young man with a mission – to find out the meaning of death. And having Asperger’s Syndrome means that he takes his mission to extremes. When he signs up for a course in anatomy, his team is tasked with dissecting cadaver Number 19 to see if they can spot the cause of death. Meantime, elsewhere in the hospital, Sam is in a coma, but although he can’t wake up he can see and hear what’s going on around him and it’s not all good. But Sam is gradually coming back and is desperate to regain the ability to speak…

Grisly, macabre and in places gloriously blackly funny, this book is a compulsive read. It may be a cliché, but I really couldn’t put it down.

Belinda Bauer
Belinda Bauer
Bauer doesn’t hold back in describing the ghastly horrors of the dissecting room or the tragedies and cruelty of the coma ward but rather brilliantly manages to keep just enough lightness of tone to make these subjects not just bearable but weirdly enjoyable. The characterisation is excellent; Patrick, with all his misunderstandings of other people’s responses and vice versa, is particularly well drawn, a likeable and sympathetic hero whose sometimes outrageous actions somehow manage to make perfect sense. But the other characters are well developed too: Meg, a fellow student of Patrick’s, dragged into his mission despite her better judgement; Sam, the coma patient; Tracy, the nurse who’s trying to catch a man; and, not least, Patrick’s mother, driven nearly to distraction by her son’s odd behaviour. The plotting is good and more complex than it seems at first sight; it moves along at a fair pace and the author pulls all the threads satisfyingly together at the end.
Mortuary

Original, well written and gruesomely entertaining, this is a great read that I think takes Bauer to a new level – highly recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.

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