Bauer, Belinda - 'Blacklands'
In this first book by Belinda Bauer, we are introduced to Stephen Lamb a twelve-year-old who is trying to find the body of his uncle. Stephen lives with his mother and younger brother Lewis at his grandmother's house near Exmoor. His uncle Billy was abducted when he was about that same age as Stephen and his body has never been found.
In order for Stephen to have a normal life, he feels that he has to solve the riddle of his uncle's disappearance and find his body, so that his Gran will be happy. So Stephen goes out onto the moors (the Blacklands of the title) digging, in the hope of finding the body. When he reads up about the murder in the local library, he finds that his uncle was thought to have been taken by a paedophile Arnold Avery who never told the police if he had killed him.
Stephen then finds that Avery is in jail and starts to write cryptic messages to Avery that only he will understand. Avery, after so many years inside has grown used to the abuses suffered by paedophiles and has resigned himself to seeing out his sentence and building a new life for himself. The messages awaken his interest and he sees the challenge of the discussions as being from a clever mind (not as good as his, but clever). So the cat and mouse letter writing continues until Stephen makes the mistake of sending Avery a photograph (which shows Stephen's face). Avery now realises that the strange feelings he had before have returned and that he has found a new prey - Stephen. Avery wants to satisfy his strange urges but he is in jail - what can he do? Stephen wants Avery to admit that he killed his uncle, but will he tell him? As the book jacket says - he was only twelve; he couldn't be expected to get stuff like writing to serial killers right first time.
This is a book which unusually tells the story from the perspective of an inquisitive twelve-year-old. The cat and mouse game is intriguing - particularly the prospect of Stephen being Avery's next victim. Belinda Bauer has produced a great first book and one that is in my top five reads in 2009. I can't wait for her next book if this first novel is anything to go by. Belinda Bauer is someone to watch out for with her very inventive story telling.
Paul Blackburn, Scotland