Day 1018: The Beautiful Dead

Cover for The Beautiful DeadEve Singer is a crime reporter. Although her boss is horrible, Eve is desperate to keep her job, because she is supporting her father, who is deep in the grip of dementia.

Eve is on the way home from reporting on a murder when she hears a man approaching her. Sure she is going to be attacked in the dark street, by instinct she turns to him and asks him to walk her home. What she doesn’t know is that the murder she has just reported on, of a woman just feet away from a busy street, is the latest in a string of serial killings. The man who walks her home is the murderer.

The trust Eve shows him hypnotizes the murderer, so he begins calling her to lure her into cooperating with him. At first, she doesn’t and turns to the police, agreeing to keep some clues secret. But later, a fear for her job makes her broadcast details about the crimes that she promised to hide.

link to NetgalleyAfter the killer lures her and another news team to the death of one of her rivals, Eve gets a police bodyguard. But when the killer kidnaps her father, she realizes she is going to have to think like a serial killer.

Although The Beautiful Dead belongs with the usual dark thrillers that Bauer usually writes, she is experimenting with throwing in the lightest touch of romance and more likable secondary characters. This is a good move for Bauer, as it lightens up what would be an extremely dark book and gives her more to work with. I think I enjoyed this novel more than the last few as a result.

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The Shut Eye


Day 833: The Shut Eye

Cover for The Shut EyeJohn Marvel is the main character of The Shut Eye, Belinda Bauer’s latest thriller. He has been an unlikable recurring character in her books, an abrasive police inspector, but previously, he has always been peripheral to the story.

Marvel is obsessed by an unsolved case, the disappearance of Edie Evans, who vanished on her way to school 11 months earlier. Her bike was found a few days later. Marvel has been fighting to keep the case open.

But it’s another case that we encounter first. Marvel saves a young woman from jumping off a bridge one night. She is Anna Buck, whose little boy Daniel wandered out of the house one day and hasn’t been seen since. Anna is distraught and blames her husband James for accidentally leaving the door open.

Marvel is revolted to have his new chief, Clyde, ask him to do him a favor, help find his wife’s dog. Clyde’s wife Sandra has been attending psychic sessions at a church, and Anna meets her there. The sessions are run by Richard Latham, who tried to help police in the Edie Evans case.

When Anna looks at the photo Sandra gives her of herself and her dog, she has her own psychic experience. She sees a garden that looks artificial. When she tells this to Inspector Marvel, he is disturbed to remember that Richard Latham made a similar remark. But he doesn’t believe in the supernatural, so he thinks Latham said something to Anna. Even more disturbing is the blurred picture of Edie on her bicycle that appears in the background of the photo, taken weeks after Edie’s disappearance and while her bicycle was impounded by the police.

We know that Edie has drawn a picture of a garden on the walls of her prison, because we periodically visit her. What we don’t know is when we see her within the time frame of the main story.

This is the first time I recall Bauer’s books having any supernatural content. I don’t know if she plans to have more or not. This is also the first time that Marvel is a main character, and although we don’t like him, we understand him better.

link to NetgalleyI did guess the identity of the perpetrator early on, but I think the guess was more intuitive than anything else. I did not, however, figure out what links the disappearances of the two children.

As usual, Bauer kept me riveted to the page. This novel is a little more mystery than thriller, but her last two novels seem to be moving in that direction.

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Finders Keepers

Day 714: Rubbernecker

Cover for RubberneckerBelinda Bauer has stepped away from the locale of her first three thrillers, set in Shipcott on the atmospheric moors of Exmoor. Rubbernecker is a departure both in locality and tone, set in Cardiff and showing a bit of humor now and then.

Patrick is a young man with Aspergers. He is not as functional as he probably could be, especially with his people skills, having apparently received no help for his condition from anyone, including his apathetic and alcoholic mother. Patrick has been obsessed since he was a small boy by the death of his father, the patient and caring parent. He doesn’t really understand what killed his father, and above all he wants to understand things. So, he is enrolled in anatomy classes at Cardiff University.

Another character we follow at the beginning of the novel is Sam, a coma patient. Sam has begun to emerge from his coma but can’t speak. However, he first awakens just in time to see a man dressed like a doctor murder the man next to him. As Sam frantically tries to communicate, he begins to fear for his own life.

At first, we don’t know how these stories connect or even their relative time frames. We wonder if we should see anything sinister in Patrick’s obsessions.

link to NetgalleyThe novel provides us a few glimpses of humor as Patrick tries to navigate the world of roommates and anatomy class teams and his peers try to understand him. The novel is well-written and involving, but I think I prefer the black aura overhanging Bauer’s earlier efforts. There is plenty of action going on in Rubbernecker, but it is lacking the atmosphere and absolute terror of the previous novels.

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Finders Keepers 


Day 362: Finders Keepers

Cover for Finders KeepersBelinda Bauer returns us to Shipton, the setting on Exmoor of her first two chilling novels. Someone abducts a girl from her father’s car, leaving a note that says “You don’t love her.” At first the police assume the kidnapping is for money or revenge against the girl’s apparently wealthy father, but more abductions follow. The small town, which has been ravaged by serial killers twice, is horrified.

Constable Jonas Holly is still on leave following the murder of his wife Lucy the year before. He will soon be returned to duty, although Inspector Reynolds is skeptical of the help he can provide.

Steven Lamb, almost a victim in the first novel, thinks he knows who murdered Lucy Holly. As more children disappear, he becomes worried about his younger brother Davey, as well he might. Unknown to their mothers, Davey and his pal Shane have been running around the countryside while their families think they are at each other’s houses.

Reynolds and his team are at a loss. They hope the children are alive but can’t figure out where they’re being held, despite having covered the moor with heat-seeking technology from a helicopter.

Bauer’s thrillers keep me on the edge of my seat. Her novels are well written and suspenseful, her characters complex. If you like dark thrillers, you can’t do much better.

Day 232: Darkside

Cover for DarksideThe holidays are over and it’s time to get my act back in gear!

Darkside is a mystery with an unusual twist and an even more unusual ending. Belinda Bauer again sets this novel in the town of Shipcott on the edge of the moor in the area of Exmoor explored in Blacklands.

An old, helpless woman seems to have died in her sleep, but the death turns out to be murder. The local constable, Jonas Holly, who is a resident of the town, is being sidelined and even ridiculed by police detective Marvel, who dislikes him on sight. With another death, the police begin to figure out that a serial killer may be murdering sick and mentally ill people.

Frighteningly, Jonas’s beloved wife Lucy has multiple sclerosis. Jonas begins getting notes from someone that say he is not doing his job, so he decides to investigate on his own.

The ending of the novel is ambiguous. Does Jonas know who the killer is or not?

Bauer manages as she did in her first book to create a tense, atmospheric thriller. Characters are plausibly drawn, and the writing is tight. I have been very pleased with Bauer’s dark psychological thrillers so far.

Day 50: Blacklands

Cover for BlacklandsBest Book of Week 10!

Belinda Bauer was another of my discoveries last year as a new writer of dark, psychologically complex novels. Blacklands is not so much a mystery as a thriller.

Twelve-year-old Steven Lamb’s uncle Billy was murdered as a child by a serial killer, and his grandmother has never gotten over it. Steven’s Nan spends all day looking out the window for her son, whose body was never found. Everyone thinks Billy was murdered by pedophile Arnold Avery, who is serving a life sentence.

Steven decides he will find his uncle’s body and that will fix his family, so he has spent all of his spare time for three years digging up the moor near his house where Avery’s victims were found. Finally he realizes the task is hopeless.

Steven feels that he is so average that he has no talents, so he is pleased when his teacher tells him he writes a good letter. He decides that maybe if he writes to the murderer, Avery will tell him where he buried Uncle Billy.

When Avery realizes that the person who has been writing to him is a boy, he decides that the situation is too delicious and he must escape from prison. Of course, he is successful.

The barren moors of Exmoor are so vividly described that they are almost a character in this chilling, suspenseful novel. At times I wasn’t totally convinced by the depiction of the thinking of the serial killer, but for the most part I was absolutely riveted.