Sunday, April 24, 2011
BLACKLANDS. Belinda Bauer. Corgi Books (2010)
Astonishing and utterly compelling thriller that drives relentlessly forward to a white knuckle conclusion. Steven Lamb digs holes on Exmoor looking for the grave of his uncle who had been abducted and murdered years before by a serial child killer, Arnold Avery. He does so in hope of repairing the damage done to his family by Billy's abduction. Steven finally writes to Avery in prison seeking his help in locating the grave and Avery seizes the opportunity that has come his way to have something new in his life. The story unspools in a very gripping and creepy fashion, the events have a horrible inevitability about them until the final heart squeezing conclusion.
This astonishing book manages to disguise the plot as the natural outcome of the actions and reactions of its brilliantly realised cast to their circumstances. From the very slightest of beginnings, the story moves carefully and calmly through the increasing escalation of events. There is nothing blatant about the progression of the story, it moves without many set pieces, the story is nudged along by wickedly believable actions and collisions. The increasingly uneasy atmosphere conjured up arises almost unseen and gathers paces as quietly as a descending fog on Exmoor.
Belinda Bauer has created a memorable cast and gives everyone, from the principal to the smallest walk on part, the breath of life. The ebb and flow of the story is so deeply entwined with the lives of the cast that the author's breathtaking craft in shaping the story is invisible. Arnold Avery is a triumph, a monster of terribly comprehensible proportions, never sympathetic and utterly engaging, a ruthless mixture of self-discipline and appetite, he still does not quite dominate the book. Steven Lamb, twelve years old, struggling to repair his shattered family and to survive his friends and enemies, emerges as the deep heart of the book. This book is enthralling and is simply unmissable.