Blair's Reviews > Blacklands

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer
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's review
Oct 16, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: mystery-thriller-etc, read-on-kindle, 2000-09-release, first-novels

The 'hero' of Blacklands is Steven Lamb, a young boy whose uncle, Billy, was murdered as a child nineteen years ago. Steven is profoundly aware of the effect Billy's death, and in particular the fact that his body was never recovered, has had on his family. He is convinced that if he can discover where Billy is buried, he will bring his family closer together and make his grandmother, who has never recovered from the loss, happy again. At first Steven spends his spare time digging his way across the surrounding Exmoor landscape, searching for bones, but after an English lesson in which he receives praise for his letter-writing style, he has a better idea - to write to Arnold Avery, the serial killer who was convicted of the assault and murder of several other children from the area (but never admitted to killing Billy) in prison. Switching between the viewpoints of Steven and Avery, the story charts the pair's correspondence as both become increasingly obsessed with what they might be able to discover.

The best thing about this book is the way that Bauer has managed to capture the thoughts of her characters and create a real voice for them, all within a third-person omniscient narrative. Steven's chapters convey his youth, innocence and naivety effectively but, thankfully, the reader is spared the annoyance of having to wade through a book written in some approximation of a child's actual voice. Avery's chapters are handled well too; Bauer doesn't shy away from portraying the killer's lack of remorse or his continuing lust for his child victims, even his arousal at the very idea of his crimes, and while this occasionally verges on being harrowing, it's helped by frequent, if brief, switches to the perspective of fellow inmates or prison wardens. It's a nice touch that Bauer gives minor characters a backstory, making some of the chapters feel almost like self-contained short stories.

However well put together the book is, though, it's all just a bit... drab. Steven's home life is portrayed as loveless and depressing, and although this is perhaps necessary for the reader to understand his obsession with Billy and motivation for contacting Avery, the characters of his mother and grandmother are very unsympathetic. Parts of the story are unbelievable - especially the chapter in which (view spoiler); the whole episode just doesn't make any sense ((view spoiler)) Blacklands is a short book, and like many short books, it could have done with a lot more detail and explanation. I felt as though it was designed to be skimmed over and wouldn't stand up to much analysis or a re-reading. A promising idea, but average and underwhelming in its execution overall.

NB: I have a feeling readers who liked this book would really enjoy Simon Lelic's Rupture. There are distinct similarities - child protagonists, a range of perspectives, bullying and abuse as strong themes, a crime at the centre of the plot - but Rupture is far more in-depth and executed with much greater finesse.
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Reading Progress

October 16, 2011 – Started Reading
October 16, 2011 – Shelved
October 17, 2011 –
October 18, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Barry Oh I didn't notice you were reading this, I think 'meh' is the best term to describe what my opinion was of it, in fact I forgot I had read it until I saw it pop up here! Never a good sign, ha.

Blair Yeah, it was alright, and I was quite interested in finding out how it would all end, but it was quite forgettable.

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