‘Blacklands’ is Belinda Bauer’s first novel and even though I prefer two of her later novels that I’ve read – ‘Rubbernecker’ and ‘The Facts of Life and Death’, this one is still excellent. She originally set out to write a short story, so ‘Blacklands’ is fairly short for a novel. It is a good place to start if you haven’t read any of Belinda Bauer’s work before.
11 year old Steven Lamb has a difficult home life. His father left when he was young. He, his younger brother Davey and his Mum live with his Nan. 18 years ago, Steven’s Uncle Billy was abducted and murdered by a serial paedophile and killer – Arnold Avery. His Nan still waits at the front window each day watching the street for her lost child. His Mum can’t seem to hold a relationship together for long. The household stumbles along with a shortage of money and joy. Uncle Billy’s bedroom is a shrine.
For the last two years Steven has spent every free moment out on the moors with his spade, digging holes and looking for Uncle Billy’s body. He hopes that its discovery will allow his family to be normal and happy.
Eventually, Steven decides to write a letter to Arnold Avery in prison, asking him where he buried the body. Avery doesn’t have any other correspondents, so is quite happy to engage in a game of cat and mouse with S.L. But, when he discovers that S.L. is a young boy, he can barely contain his excitement and Steven quickly finds himself out of his depth.
I loved the child’s perspective in this book. This is something that Belinda Bauer has done brilliantly in all her books that I’ve read. Arnold Avery’s perspective was less easy to deal with (he is a truly sick man).
Other characters and interactions in the book were also brilliant. Nan had occasional moments of joy – she just didn’t want anyone to see them. The interactions between Steven and his best friend Lewis were an excellent illustration of Steven’s life and it was fascinating to see these interactions change over time.
Once again this was an excellent Belinda Bauer novel and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of her books.
Book Published 2010