Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Blacklands: A Novel / by Belinda Bauer

It's been eighteen years since 11-year-old Billy Peters disappeared from the small town of Shipcolt in Somerset (UK). Everyone believes Billy was murdered--after all, pedophile/serial killer Arnold Avery confessed to the crime along with murder of six other children, all of whom he disposed of in the desolate moor surrounding the village. It's just that the remains of the other six were found and the mystery of where Billy's corpse might be has always been a bit of a loose end, one that's had Billy's mother convinced he's still alive. Ever vigilant, she ("Poor Old Mrs. Peters") still stands guard at the same front window from which she last saw him, letting the world and time pass her by as whe waits for her son. Her remaining family, a son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons, quietly forebear with their Nan's issues even as their own lives suffer and break apart.

Twelve-year-old grandson Steven has seen the damage Billy's disappearance has done to his family and is determined to find some closure even if it means digging holes at random in the moor hoping to find something, anything, to bring about a resolution. He so desperately wants peace for his Nan that he secretly begins writing anonymous letters to Avery Arnold, currently doing life in prison, asking for help in finding the body. But little does Steven know how dangerous his little ploy is. As the correspondence between Steven and Avery becomes more familiar, Avery devises his own scheme, toying with his mysterious letter writer through misdirected hints and manipulative responses. When he finally realizes the identity of his little pen pal, Avery's own life suddenly gains and entirely new purpose, one far more dangerous and demented than anything Steven could have imagined.

Whoa. This is a really good debut novel, right up there with the best of them as psychological suspense goes. Like a master painter who skillfully employs every inch of canvas, Bauer writes with absolutely no 'wasted' words, sentences or paragraphs. Every description, each subtle bit of backstory and all of the characters are brilliantly and concisely elucidated, the author perpetually aware of the implications at each turn in the story. And while her superior economy of words will impress not a few seasoned mystery readers, it's her talent at storytelling, of illuminating the minds of the characters and molding the bits and pieces into a particularly alluring psychological game of cat-and-mouse which most bears witness her skill. Don't miss out on this book or this author. Her latest, Darkside, is also currently available for checkout. (MYS BAUER)

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