Search This Blog

Friday, February 10, 2012

Dark Side. Belinda Bauer. Bantam Press. (2011)

A superb crime story, as cold and griping as the bleak winter Exmoor landscape that the story is set in. Belinda Bauer has located the battered skull beneath the skin of the English village murder story. A severely disabled, elderly lady is murdered in the small village of Shipcott in midwinter. PC Jonas Holly, the village policeman is quickly sidelined by the investigative team sent to handle the case. The abrasive Detective Chief Inspector Marvel finds Jonas a considerable nuisance and deals with him as such. A second murder places everyone in the village under significant pressure and the investigative team and Jonas in particular. The plot uncoils steadily, the reveals are cunning staged and the conclusion is wholly unforgiving and satisfying.
Belinda Bauer takes the basic structure of the English village murder mystery , the way the community knows everything except what it does not wish to know, the comfort of familiarity and the suffocating closeness of knowing everyone and uses them to amplify the force of the savage story. The cast are varied and bursting with life, the smallest walk on part is so finely drawn that they insist on the readers attention, without ever upsetting the balance of the narrative. PC Jonas Holly is a great leading character, he is not a moss covered village bobby, he returned to Shipcott for a deeply serious reason, the failing health of his wife. The murders in the village are a considerable burden to him, both on a personal and a professional level. That such events could happen on his watch is pressure enough, being very publicly excluded from the investigation adds severely to it. It forces him to act to regain and retain his position within the village, the community expect something from him that he struggles to provide.
The lead investigator, DCI Marvel should be a walking cliche, an abrasive double outsider, transferred from London to the local force and an outsider to the village, he is abrasive, enraged and frustrated. He avoids all the obvious pitfalls he seems set up for and emerges as as gripping and deeply unlikable person in his own rounded right. He gets a deeply satisfying and viciously sardonic treatment from Belinda Bauer and deserves all of it, in particular the happy unfairness meted out to him at the end.
The astonishing skill with which the plot threads are woven and twisted up to the last words of the book is a joy to read. The reader is reminded that justice is a freezing cold process that does not encompass mercy in any way. This is a superb book, very strongly recommended.

No comments:

Post a Comment