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Sunday, 28 November 2010

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer

Twelve-year-old Steven Lamb digs holes on Exmoor, hoping to find a body. Every day after school, while his classmates swap football stickers, Steven goes digging to lay to rest the ghost of the uncle he never knew, who disappeared aged eleven 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.

This is Belinda Bauer's debut novel and she is an author I will definitely be following and look forward to reading more of her work.

Blacklands is a book with a hard hitting storyline - a family who have a unsolved disappearance to deal with. Billy was a young boy who went missing one day, his disappearance has been connected to a serial killer but the family still have no body to bury. The serial killer is in jail but refuses to admit responsibility and let the family bury their boy.
Steven was Billy's nephew, not even born when Billy disappeared but Steven is determined to find Billy's body and try to relieve some of his nan's trauma. He does the unexpected, contacts
Arnold Avery in prison.
Their communications are brief and cryptic - the guards who sensor the mail see no problems with it and when Steven's mother intercepts the post, she assumes it is from Steven's girlfriend.

I will not speak anymore about the storyline as I hate to ruin it for any readers but this book will stay with me for a long time. I felt momentarily uncomfortable reading some of the book especially when Arnold realised that SL was a young boy but the story also had a way of enticing me and I had to find out what happened.
Belinda Bauer has successfully seen the story from both sides - the family of missing Billy, especially Steven, wanting to solve the mystery for his nan, spending hours each weekend digging the moors for the body, and Arnold Avery, who is in prison, but is intrigued by the letters SL sends him.

As I have previously said, I was uncomfortable reading parts of the book, however Belinda does not write a traditional 'child-killer' story. She has thought and described perfectly the tale of the two sides, writes about the atmosphere in the prison, in the home of Steven and his family and also on the moor.

Although the subject of this book may initially put people off reading this book, I would urge you to read this book for yourself, when I think you will see past the storyline and recognise what a stunning debut novel Belinda Bauer has written.

Thank you to Ben Willis from Transworld Publishers for sending me this book to review.


  1. I liked this one too even though I had my reservations at first given the subject matter but she handled it brilliantly, not veering into gruesome details etc. Great debut novel.

  2. I really enjoyed this book. Great review :)