Blacklands, by Belinda Bauer, won the CWA Gold Dagger this year. A notable achievement at any time, but all the more so when you discover that this is her first novel. I’ve just read the paperback edition, and reviewed it for Tangled Web UK.
Blacklands is a book about the strange relationship between a serial killer and the young nephew of one of his victims. Most of the action is seen from the point of view of Steven Lamb, who is one of the most memorable, and likeable, characters I’ve come across in the genre lately. And we are also taken into the twisted mind of the killer, Arnold Avery.
I liked the fact that, for the most part, Bauer opted for subtlety of treatment of her material, and avoided graphic violence. I’ve read plenty of graphic serial killer novels, and some of them are very good. But this book, in my opinion, is better, and certainly more original. I haven’t read as gripping a book about serial murder in years. Why is this novel so successful? The answer lies in the quality of Bauer’s writing, as well as in her story-telling gift and ability to create believable people and evoke setting (several key scenes are set, very effectively, on Exmoor.) I might quibble about a few aspects of the story, but the quibbles are insignificant in comparison to the overall achievement.
There is a short but valuable afterword in which Bauer explains how she came to write the book – because she was interested in how it might be to belong to a family affected by murder. Until now, Kate Atkinson’s hugely enjoyable new book was my favourite read of 2010. But Blacklands made an even greater impression on me. The only question is whether this very talented writer can maintain such a standard in future. I very much hope so.