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Blacklands Hardcover – January 5, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
British author Bauer's solid debut focuses on Steven Lamb, an unhappy 12-year-old boy who lives with his mother, grandmother, and five-year-old brother in Shipcolt, Somerset. Steven's grandmother is still haunted by the disappearance and suspected murder of her 11-year-old son, Billy, 19 years earlier. The authorities assume Billy was killed by pedophile Arnold Avery, who was convicted of six counts of murder and is serving a life sentence in Longmoor prison. Determined to find Billy's remains, Steven has been methodically digging up the moor near his house. Frustrated by his lack of progress, he writes a letter to Avery asking for information, and so begins a cat-and-mouse game that will have dire consequences. Bauer creates believable tension within the Lamb household as her characters shoulder enormous psychological burdens, though a somewhat far-fetched climax dilutes the quiet power of the preceding story. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Bauer, whose intent was to write a “small story about a boy and his grandmother,” didn’t quite succeed. Yes, there’s a grandmother and her 12-year-old grandson, but Bauer’s debut is hardly a “small” (read simple and uncomplicated) story. It’s an unsettling novel, with the sort of devastating emotional content that makes it both difficult to read and difficult to forget. Steven Lamb wants nothing more than to find the body of his uncle, taken as young boy (and presumably murdered) by pedophile Arnold Avery, who is now in prison. It’s Steven’s desperate wish that by finding the body, he’ll heal his dysfunctional family and repair his grandmother’s broken heart. Digging holes in the nearby moor (the blacklands), where many of Avery’s victims were found, has revealed nothing, leaving the pedophile himself as Steven’s only hope for ending his family’s pain. Thus begins a carefully orchestrated mail correspondence—just a few words here and there—passed between the two in letters that the recipients must puzzle out. Unfortunately for Steven, Avery quickly gains control of the conversation, which allows him to live in glorious memory of his killings. If the turn of events isn’t totally unexpected, it’s a riveting journey nonetheless, with Bauer remaining fully invested in her troubled characters: one a clever, vicious manipulator; the other an unappreciated, bullied 12-year-old, desperate for love. --Stephanie Zvirin
Top customer reviews
Blacklands is gripping and chilling. It is also unsettling as Bauer writes from both Steven and Arnold's point of view and the latter perspective is intriguing as much as it is repulsive. I enjoyed how Bauer let us delve into the mind of this unapologetic and irredeemable criminal. It's the first book I have read where a child molestor is given a voice and not portrayed as a distant and incomprehensible villain. It makes for interesting reading and as Bauer switches perspectives the reader finds themselves on a roller coaster ride which leaves them feeling pity for the unhappy little boy in some moments and disgust for the cruel mastermind in others.
I would've given this book five stars if it hadn't been for the rushed ending. Much too much detail is missing which is strange as the rest of the book is written with such care. The subject matter is bleak and the milieu is dreary so this is not a light read despite its length. Bauer is great at creating tension and atmosphere and the story moved along at a satisfactory pace. This is the first book of Bauer's that I've read and I'm already a fan! You will be too after reading Blacklands!
Bauer mentions that when she started writing her book, she didn't have a crime novel in mind. Instead, what she wanted to write about was the story of a boy and his grandmother. Well, she certainly succeeded in that regard. The relationship between Steven and his grandma is fantastically portrayed and you find yourself suffering in silence in Steven's shoes. In fact, the relationship triangles in the whole family are wonderfully described, with Steven's younger brother Davey, his mother Lettie, and Lettie's boyfriend Uncle Jude all playing a big role. However, with the murderer's entrance, the story takes on a more sinister turn. Bauer has made smart use of the novel's environment. The eerie atmosphere of the Moors plays such a large role in the book that the landscape almost becomes a character with its own set of rules and even feelings. This is a great, psychological story. I find it hard to put it into a specific genre, and that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned: it is as much as a coming-of-age story than a crime novel or a story about grieving. I read it in two days and I am looking forward to Bauer's next book, Darkside.