Blacklands, by Belinda Bauer has been called “original, unsettling, and atmospheric…” by Val McDermid. Though I read this book months ago, it has remained with me so vividly, that I can’t help but write about it.
Twelve-year-old Steven Lamb lives in a house fraught with grief, with unanswered questions, and with the suffocating knowledge that any joy in his family was lost long before he was born. At the age of eleven, Steven’s uncle went missing, and is pressumed murdered by convicted serial killer and pedophile, Arnold Avery. In an attempt to bring peace to the remnants of his family, Steven begins searching for his uncle’s body, and for the answers that only those bones can bring.
Belinda Bauer writes with an insight that creates an inescapable intimacy between reader and character. The time spent listening to Arnold Avery’s strained and conflicted thoughts results in an understanding of his character that is not devoid of empathy. Avery’s excitement at receiving a handwritten letter, following so many years of solitude, touches the reader with that same thrill, even if it lies far beneath a sense of fear for the child who wrote it. The result of this compassion is a heightened awareness of the horror of which Avery is capable, and a knowledge of the determination that will bring Steven much closer to the answers he seeks than he ever could have imagined.
Read this book with an awareness of its ability to be disturbing, as well as its ability to express love within a family so fractured by pain, but certainly, read this book.