EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO, Billy Peters disappeared. Everyone in town believes Billy was murdered--after all, serial killer Arnold Avery later admitted killing six other children and burying them on the same desolate moor that surrounds their small English village. Only Billy's mother is convinced he is alive. She still stands lonely guard at the front window of her home, waiting for her son to return, while her remaining family fragments around her.
Whilst reading BLACKLANDS by Belinda Bauer it was a bit hard to get your head around the idea that this was a debut novel. it's so assured It wasn't at all surprising to find it had won a CWA Gold Dagger. It's the story of how the very determined, engaging and just a bit naive Steven Lamb decides to sort out the mess in his family.
As the blurb puts it:
"Dear Mr Avery
I am looking for WP. Can you help me?
SL, 111 Barnstaple Road, Shipcott, Somerset.
He was only twelve, he reasoned: he couldn't be expected to get stuff like writing to serial killers right first time".
Steven has always felt left out as his mother struggles with life and his Nan sits at the window waiting for her son to come home. It's been 20 years since Steven's Uncle Billy, then aged 11, went missing. Most people think he was murdered by notorious child serial killer Arnold Avery and buried somewhere on Exmoor. Steven's been spending all his spare time digging the moor, looking for his uncle's body, but even a 12 year old can work out how futile that is. So of course he writes to the killer. What he doesn't understand is that Avery is still very dangerous and very very bored.
BLACKLANDS is cleverly constructed. Using a simple, very straightforward tone, there's a feeling of the young boy in every observation and word. Yet the story itself isn't simple, it's nuanced and layered, with good characterisations and a strong sense of place. It's also an interesting perspective - a crime committed 20 years ago having resonance all those years, and a generation on.