Blacklands by Belinda Bauer

12 year old Steven Lamb doesn’t have a lot to be happy about.  He, his brother Davey and their mother Lettie, live with Steven’s Nan.  His mother clearly favours Davey, and his nan is haunted by the loss of her own son Billy almost two decades earlier.  Billy was believed to have been a victim of serial killer Arnold Avery, who is now in prison.  Billy’s body was never found, and Steven has spent a huge amount of time digging to try and find it on Exmoor (where oher victims of Avery were buried). 

Steven thinks that if he can just find Billy’s body, his family can obtain closure and may be able to be happy again.  When his digging yields no result, he decides to write to Avery and ask where Billy is buried.  And so begins a terrifying game of cat and mouse…

This book was very gripping and hard to put down.  The narration was pacy, and switched from Steven’s point of view to that of Avery.  The chapters told from Avery’s viewpoint were disturbing, which is only to be expected as he was a paedophile and child murderer.  These parts worked particularly well in casting in creating a dark and sinister atmosphere in which the story took place.

For me, the chapters told from Steven’s point of view worked slightly less well.  I found some of his thought processes to be somewhat unrealistic for a 12 year old boy, and thought that for a child who was clearly very naive in some respects, he seemed to reason things out in a way that I would not have expected.

However, the story held my attention throughout and while I had to suspend my disbelief on occasion, I did find the book extremely readable.  The writing flowed well and drew me in completely.  My favourite parts, and the sections that were most believeable, were the scenes with Steven and his family.  These parts were upseting because they portrayed such a realistic view of a family heading towards meltdown.  Lettie has been let down by men all of her life – her childrens’ father is out of the picture, and her children are used to seeing a succession of ‘uncles’ – and she seems to love her younger son more than she loves Steven.  His nan spends all of her days looking out of the window waiting for the return of a son who is never coming back.  Steven himself is either picked on or completely ignored at school, and his one friend Lewis, takes advantage of him constantly.  It was no surprise to me to read the author’s note where she said that the book was originally going to be about a boy and his family, and the impact which a 20 year old murder had had on them, rather than a psychological thriller involving a serial killer.

Despite the minor niggles, I would certainly recommend the book, although the subject matters means that it might not appeal to everybody.  I will also be looking out for other books by this author.

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