Friday, April 15, 2011

Blacklands

Blacklands
Author: Belinda Bauer
Simon & Schuster, 2010
240 pages

I became aware of this book by browsing the best-selling Crime books on Amazon UK's web site sometime last year, and immediately put it on my list. I had to wait a bit to get the Kindle version, but it was worth it. Blacklands is definitely a page-turner (page-clicker?) . . . and a nail-biter, too.

Twelve-year old Steven Lamb lives in Somerset (England) with his grandmother, mother, and five year-old half-brother. He's a bit of a gloomy kid, seemingly unloved at home, tormented by neighborhood bullies, and continually betrayed by best friend Lewis. His majorly dysfunctional family is affected by a tragedy that happened many years ago when his Uncle Billy disappeared (when he was about Steven's age) after presumably being taken by a serial child molester/killer named Arnold Avery.

Uncle Billy's body was never found, and Steven is obsessed with finding it, hoping against all hope that this is the thing that will save his family. Using a spade given to him by one of his mother's boyfriends, he spends his spare time digging in the moors near his home. After months, perhaps years of unsuccessful digging, Steven decides to escalate his search by secretly contacting Avery, who is now miles away in prison. Thus begins a secretive correspondence between the two of them.

The author takes us deep into the minds of both Steven and Avery. At times the similarities between the two can be very chilling. The plot thickens, but of course, I can't tell you any more without giving too much away.

Amazingly, this is the author's first novel. But I'm not the only one who was impressed: Blacklands won the 2010 CWA Gold Dagger Award. With this honor, Belinda Bauer joins the likes of Ann Cleeves, Henning Mankell, and Arnaldur Indridason. If you like reading crime novels, thrillers, or what I like to call 'hardcore' mysteries, you would love Blacklands. I have a feeling I won't be forgetting this one for a long time!