Blacklands (Exmoor Trilogy #1)- Belinda Bauer

Steven Lamb is 12 when he writes his first letter . . . to a serial killer

Every day after school, whilst his classmates swap football stickers, twelve-year-old Steven digs holes on Exmoor, hoping to find a body. His uncle disappeared aged eleven and is assumed to have fallen victim to the notorious serial killer Arnold Avery – but his body has never been found.

Steven’s Nan does not believe her son is dead. She still waits for him to come home, standing bitter guard at the front window while her family fragments around her. Steven is determined to heal the widening cracks between them before it’s too late – even if that means presenting his grandmother with the bones of her murdered son.

But when Steven realises this is an impossible task, he crafts a careful letter to Arnold Avery in prison. And there begins a dangerous cat-and-mouse game between a desperate child and a bored psychopath . . .

Belinda Bauer grew up in England and South Africa. She has worked as a journalist and screenwriter, and her script for The Locker Room earned her the Carl Foreman/Bafta Award for Young British Screenwriters.

Book Info: Print length: 242 pages. Publisher: Transworld Digital. Publication Date: 19 Jan 2010.

With her first novel Blacklands, Belinda won the CWA Gold Dagger for Crime Novel of the Year in 2010. Her next two novels, Darkside and Finders Keepers, were also highly acclaimed and in 2012 she was shortlisted for the CWA Dagger in the Library Award for her entire body of work. In 2015 her novel The Shut Eye was longlisted for the CWA Goldsboro Dagger. Rubbernecker won the 2014 Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year Award, which Belinda was shortlisted for again in 2015 with her novel The Facts of Life and Death. Her 8th novel, Snap, is a Sunday Times bestseller longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018.

My Review:

I’ve read three of Belinda Bauer’s books over the years, Rubbernecker, Snap and Exit and each time I am reminded why she is such a great author. Her earlier work, Blacklands, Darkside and Finders Keepers have been sitting on my kindle for years and I really needed to read a dark, chilling thriller so opened up Blacklands.

Before I start, this book was written in 2010 and is the debut novel and even though it’s 13 years old, it is, in my opinion, relevant, topical and can easily hold it’s own amongst crime thrillers published today.

Often when we read about serial killers in the press, we are bombarded with information about the killer and it’s the victims who seem to be forgotten or overlooked. Who can name any of Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy’s victims (without looking it up or watching the Netflix series)? Blacklands is the story of one of the families destroyed by a local serial killer and pedophile, Arnold Avery. Now in prison, Avery was finally caught and convicted for torturing and strangling several children but there are a few missing children he has never admitted to killing and their bodies remain undiscovered almost twenty years later denying the grieving families the chance to say goodbye.

Steven Lamb is 12 years old, he lives with his single mother, younger brother and Grandmother (Nan). 19 years earlier his Uncle Billy, then aged 11, vanished without a trace and since that day Nan has spent everyday starring out of the window waiting for her son to return. Over the years, her daughter has had two boys, Steven and Davey. Their lives have been shattered into tiny broken pieces and the disappearance of Billy has caused the Lamb family to fracture emotionally.

Steven thinks that if he can find Uncle Billy’s body, believed to be buried somewhere on Exmoor, he can give his Nan the closure she needs and in return he can have the happy, loving family unit he craves, Having spent the last 3 years secretly digging in the moors searching for his dead uncle, when a teacher tells him he writes a good letter, he decides to write to Arnold Avery in prison and get him to confess to Billy’s murder.

What follows is a very dangerous cat and mouse game. Avery is absolutely terrifying and I was really shaken and disturbed when reading his chapters. This is a truly gripping and often shocking story which I couldn’t put down.

I thoroughly recommend it to any fans of crime fiction and at only 242 pages (and currently 99p on Amazon kindle) it will certainly keep you glued to the pages from start to finish.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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