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Belinda Bauer
Simon & Schuster 2010

Blacklands is the very impressive debut mystery novel by Belinda Bauer. Set in the dark, gloomy wasteland of English moors, it immediately conjures up a mood of desonaltion and despair. Often heart stopping, Blacklands is visceral, engrossing, evocative,a nd hard to pput down. An excellent first novel, we hope Belinda Bauer is hard at work on her second.

This mystery novel explores a deteriorated family whose life has been irrevocably altered by an 11-year-old’s fatal encounter with a well-practised murderer. The after effects bleed down through two successive generations to cloak them in a shroud of blame, disconnection, and persuasive unhappiness.

Belinda Bauer takes the fascinating and novel approach of exploring this often disturbing matter from the perspective of the victim’s 12-year-old nephew, Steven Lamb who lives life largely invisible except unfortunately noticed by tenacious local bullies who threaten  him for sport.

Stephen’s life changes forever when he learns that one summer day almost two decades earlier his 11-year-old uncle Billy simply disappeared within 200 yards of the family home. His distraction and his obsession becomes to scow the moors, digging innumerable holes with only a spade, driven to find Uncle Billy and become the hero who can save his family and himself.

Steven also enters into a secret game fuelled by cryptic and frightening correspondence with the murderer.

Bauer plays with fear and suspense, punctuating the plot with a dark existentialism that draws chilling parallels between the killer and the boy who seeks his help. She not only does an excellent job painting her collection of complex and disturbed characters in deep, rich layers, but provides distressingly vivid insights into the killer’s twisted thought processes and emotional life.

Blacklands is a superb mystery novel.