I came across author Belinda Bauer thanks to Marilyn Stasio’s review in the New York Times. Rubbernecker – which features an amateur sleuth with Aspergers syndrome – sounded interesting. And interesting it was… it took me until page 145 to figure out why the book was even considered a mystery! By the time I finished the book, anatomy student Patrick Fort had figured out that the man he was dissecting in the cadaver lab was murdered, how it was done, who had done it and why. And in a parallel plot, I also knew exactly what the coma patient with the grieving husband who was being seduced by a wily nurse was trying to tell the world. I put the book down and told my husband, “Wow, that was awesome.” He picked it up, read it, and agreed.
That set me off on a search for a Belinda Bauer backlist. Oh frabjous day, she has one. There were five additional books to her credit, and I was able to locate four of them. The fifth, Finders Keepers, was only available in the U.K. and thanks to the magic of Amazon, is speeding its way to me from London, arrival expected by February 26. (Evidently traveling by boat.) As I am eager to get reading on the Edgar nominees, I’m going to give you a quick Bauer wrap-up and leave Finders Keepers for later.
Blacklands: Bauer’s first book is told from the perspective of 12-year-old Steven Lamb. Steven lives in a small English village that has touched by tragedy. Fifteen years previously, six children were snatched, abused, and murdered by pedophile Arnold Avery. Convicted of these crimes, Avery is suspected of many more – including that of Steven’s Uncle Billy. Billy’s body was never found. Steven decides he will end his grandmother’s uncertainty and let her move on by finding Billy’s body, and he devotes himself to a search. But things get complicated when he decides to ask Avery to reveal the location of Billy’s grave. Steven’s a nice boy with a big heart, but he’s a child and not a particularly bright one, either. Bauer has an excellent way with characterization. Blacklands is well-written, nicely paced and plotted, and the tension builds to a heart-pounding conclusion.
Darkside: The second Bauer crime novel features the sad story of lovely Lucy Holly, a young woman who is slowing being overtaken by multiple sclerosis, and her policeman husband Jonas. Jonas is investigating the death of an elderly woman at a nursing home; soon found to be a murder, a special team is brought in and Jonas is relegated to the sidelines. As more deaths of a similar nature occur, it becomes apparent that someone is ridding the village of nuisances, that is, people who should just go ahead and die, but don’t. Our fear? That Lucy Holly is next. As with Blacklands, there are multiple perspectives, multiple well-drawn characters, and as an especially nice touch, an older Steven Lamb as the local paperboy, whom Jonas pays to check in on his wife. DCI Marvel, as the big city copper brought in to solve the crime and seemingly to humiliate Jonas, is a revelation. The book has a twist that I won’t spoil, but I will admit I saw it coming. Very late in the game.
The Shut Eye: This book is my personal favorite. In it, James and Anna Buck are the parents of a small boy who has been missing for a few weeks. James blames himself, and his wife blames him, as well, for he is the one who left the front door open that morning, when four-year-old Daniel ran a few steps into the wet cement of the new side walk and then disappeared without further trace. When Anna learns of a “shut-eye” – that is, a person who can see without looking, or a psychic, she is desperate for clues. But what we soon begin to suspect is that it is Anna herself who is a shut-eye. Anna meets DCI Marvel when she tries to use her own visions to help locate a missing dog. Marvel, who is continuing to pursue a cold case, the disappearance of tween Edie Evens, begins to suspect that Anna holds the key to unlocking Edie’s mystery. As with her other books, Bauer does a wonderful job of making all the characters three-dimensional and wholly believable. In the book’s resolution there is both joy and sadness. Fabulous.
The Facts of Life and Death: All new characters in this book, but a reminder of Blacklands because the protagonist is 10-year old Ruby Trick. Ruby’s mom and dad aren’t getting along; her dad’s been unemployed for several years and there’s no work to be had, now that the ship-builder’s has shut down. She knows what can happen – when moms and dads are fighting, there’s a divorce, and the dad leaves. Ruby will do almost anything to keep her father close. As in Backlands, Bauer uses the child as an unreliable narrator. In Ruby’s small town, someone is terrorizing young women, abducting them, forcing them to disrobe and then to call their mothers to say good-bye. Soon this assault is not enough, and he escalates to murder. The town is sick with fear, to the point where local men patrol the area to ensure that women get home safely. The local men – and Ruby, who accompanies her father while her mother works late. The reader suspects what Ruby cannot see, and the tension builds to an almost unbearable peak. Excellent plotting and characterization, as I’ve come to expect from Bauer.
Recommendation: Definitely take the time to discover Belinda Bauer. I’m looking forward to the final backlist book, and to future books as well! (Get writing, Ms. Bauer.)