Simon & Schuster
2010/ ISBN 1439149445
Suspense / Contemporary / Devon, England
by L J Roberts
First Sentence: Exmoor dripped with dirty bracken, rough, colorless
grass, prickly gorse, and last year’s heather, so black it
looked as if wet fire had swept across the landscape, taking the
trees with it and leaving the moor cold and exposed to face the
Sociopath Arnold Avery raped and murdered children; he admitted
to six whose bodies were found. One who was not found was Billy
Peters. The impact severely affected his family. Eighteen years
later, his nephew, 12-year-old Steven Lamb believes if he can find
Billy’s body, it will bring the family back together. Spending
his spare time digging holes in the moor bring Steven to the point
of writing the imprisoned Avery in an attempt to figure out what
will convenience the killer to provide the location.
The very opening of the book creates a sense of place and an atmosphere
which is both gloomy and compelling.
There are no perfect characters here; only human ones. Steven’s
gram has become embittered and closed off following the disappearance
of her son, Billy. Steven’s mother; closed off from her mother’s
affection has a string of failed relationships. “Uncle”
Jake”; one of Steven’s mom’s men, provides Steven
with the outward displays of love and understanding but is only
around for short periods of time. Steven’s friend Lewis who
realizes Steven is the smarter of them but needs to dominate the
relationship. Steven is by no means perfect. He’s a shy boy,
afraid of confrontation, and knows his mother prefers his younger
brother, yet he constantly strives for the thing we all want; love
Avery, the imprisoned murderer is as far from perfect as one can
get but is the person with whom Steven must form some level of a
relationship in order to gain what he needs. Through Bauer, we understand
how dangerous and impaired is Avery without her having to indulge
in graphic detail. In fact, in some ways, the hints and inferences
are even more effective than detail would be.
What is particularly wonderful about Bauer’s writing is that
the characters alive and understandable; she shows us Steven becoming
more mature in his thinking and reasoning, yet still as a 12-year-old-boy.
At one point, she talks about Steven’s comprehension of Avery
being a sociopath, of the insignificance of one person to the whole
of the universe and that asking Avery for help is akin to asking
the Devil for mercy.
This is sophisticated stuff for a young boy, but it works through
our understanding of Steven’s need. She is also one of those
wonderful authors who can take an inanimate object and make it not
only an important element, but almost a character in the story.
Bauer does write dialogue well, although there’s not a lot
of it as the book is written narrative. She does often exhibit an
wonderful turn of phrase…”Avery adapted so fast, he’d
have blown a hole straight through Darwinism.” While I’m
one who really likes dialogue, the narrative, written in third person,
past tense, works here mainly because of the quality of her writing.
This is not an action-packed, rapid-fire action novel. The melancholy
of the story’s opening sets the pace, but never did I find
the book to drag.
There is excellent suspense. At time she lets it build and then
backs it down. It then starts to build again, slowly and relentlessly
to an intense transition from where Steven was courting the Devil,
to where he has fully awakened and I found myself almost catching
The one real flaw for me is a dependence on some rather large coincidences.
Otherwise, the book would have earned top marks from me. Still,
it was very close and one of the best reads I’ve had in awhile
and I can certain see why it won the Crime Writers’ Association
(CWA) Golden Dagger Award for 2010. There is no question that Ms.
Bauer’s next book, “Darkside”, will be on my reading