Thursday, May 27, 2010

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer

Title: Blacklands
Author: Belinda Bauer
ISBN: 9781439149447, Simon & Schuster, 2010
Genre: Thriller
Rating: B+
Source: Paperback Swap

First Line: Exmoor dripped with dirty bracken, rough, colorless grass, prickly gorse, and last year's heather, so black it looked as if wet fire had swept across the landscape, taking the trees with it and leaving the moor cold and exposed to face the winter unprotected.

Twenty years ago, Stephen Lamb's Uncle Billy disappeared, never to return. Since Uncle Billy was eleven and serial killer/ pedophile Arnold Avery was trolling the moors at the time, it was assumed that Billy fell prey to Avery.

Twenty years later, Stephen Lamb's grandmother is still waiting at the window for her son to return. Twelve-year-old Stephen is sick to death of having to deal with the nasty tempers of his grandmother and mother; he's tired of being followed around by his five-year-old brother; he doesn't want to smell like mildew anymore; and if the school bullies left him alone, he would think he'd won the biggest lottery ever.

In his mind, everything went to pot when Uncle Billy disappeared. If he could only find Billy, his grandmother would stop waiting for his return, and maybe-- just maybe-- life might become more livable. With that in mind, Stephen takes a shovel out to the moor and digs hole after hole after hole. Uncle Billy has to be there somewhere. He finally comes to the conclusion that he needs help in finding Uncle Billy's remains, and who is the only person qualified to help? That's right: Arnold Avery. So begins a correspondence that's enough to make anyone's skin crawl.

This book does not read like a first novel. Bauer does an excellent job of portraying how tragedy has affected this family and to what lengths young Stephen will go to have even the slightest bit of normality in his life. Three quarters of the book is very quiet and very very powerful; however, the ending is a bit far-fetched and dilutes that intensity.

Regardless of the ending, I am still very impressed by this story. Young Stephen Lamb remains crystal clear in my mind, and I will keep an eye out for more books by Belinda Bauer. She has quite a talent.

[Note: Although the book does deal with pedophilia and the murder of children, these themes are handled in a straightforward, non-graphic manner-- which can be even more chilling because your mind is free to add all the details.]


  1. Cathy - This sounds really creepy and a fascinating idea for a novel. Thanks for the review...

  2. Creepy is definitely the word. Though I don't usually go for stories told through the eyes of children, this one sounds well-done. The ending as described by you has me all the more intrigued...

    Also, I read 'The Last Rituals' recently. I know you didn't rate it very highly, but I really enjoyed it. Great murder, lots of history and humor, and some real characters.

    This one looks like another TBR.

    Southern City Mysteries

  3. Cathy, I've got a copy of this book and mean to read it at some point. Enjoyed your review.

  4. This is a great idea for a novel - the thought of the boy just going out and digging holes looking for Uncle Billy breaks my heart and I haven't even read the book.

  5. Margot-- It was creepy and fascinating; one of the most interesting premises I've come across in years.

    Michele-- I'm glad you enjoyed Last Rituals. I seem to be in the minority with that one, but there are things that I enjoyed about that book. I can see myself reading the next one in the series.

    Kay-- Thanks!

    Barbara-- If you ever read the book, you're going to want to wrap that boy in a hug and never let him go.

  6. Exmoor + an old case about a missing person - this doesn´t sound bad at all.

  7. Hmmmm....sounds like a great read. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Dorte-- It certainly kept me turning the pages to find out what was going to happen next!

    Julie-- You're welcome!

  9. Thanks for your note at the end. Recently, I had deleted this from my TBR shelf because I just didn't think it would be my cup of tea. I can, at times, be a very visual reader.

  10. Kim-- So can I. That's why I thought the note at the end may help potential readers. I'm glad that it helped you. :)

  11. I thought this was a great first novel. I can't wait to see what she writes next.


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