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102 of 104 people found the following review helpful
on 25 January 2010
Blacklands is a rather dark tale of two halves, one part of it is the tale of an unhappy and dysfunctional family, and the other is the dark tale of the mind of a serial killer. The thing, or person, that links the two is a twelve year old boy called Steven Lamb. Steven is one of those boys who isn't very popular at school in fact even his teachers try not to notice him and even try to avoid him and his `smell of mildew', so much so they ignore his being bullied. His home life is also not the best, living on the breadline, Steven with his Mum, Nan and little brother Davey.

It's not the happiest of households either, his mum has a favourite son which isn't Steven and his Nan has been bitter and angry ever since the disappearance of Steven's Uncle Billy. Aged eleven Billy vanished between the newsagent and his house believed to be the victim of serial killer Arnold Avery. Steven decides and in some way becomes slightly obsessed that finding Billy's body will make everything better and if he does it his family will love him more. After fruitless digging on Exmoor he decides that he will write to his Uncle's killer, what he doesn't realise is that this provides Arnold Avery with the perfect game.

Steven is a brilliant character and I really enjoyed reading him and following his journey. Occasionally I thought he spoke and acted a lot older than twelve, having said that with his home life the way it was and all the bullying I could understand why he might have aged quicker. I thought the premise was an interesting and yet incredibly disturbing one. I found getting into the mind of Avery and his paedophilic ways made for difficult reading, I am of a mind though reading shouldn't always be comfortable just like it shouldn't always be happy.

If I was judging a book by its cover I would possibly, and I don't mean to sound a snob, not have picked Blacklands up as it looked like a bit of a bad crime throwaway summer read and it's not at all. I can't say I enjoyed the book because I don't think you can enjoy a book with a serial killing paedophile, I was enthralled though, gripped too and turned the pages till suddenly it was finished and a few hours had whizzed by. It's not got the best prose that I have ever seen yet it does get into the minds of an unfortunate twelve year old as well as the darkest recesses of a serial killers mind. I would recommend people give this a go.
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61 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on 21 January 2010
Although Blacklands fits comfortably into the crime genre, this book is actually part thriller, part crime drama and part coming-of-age story. It's a study of ordinary people under extraordinary pressure; Steven and his family still suffering from a distant crime, and a killer playing a cunning long game for another chance at psychopathic glory.

While much of current crime fiction seems to use more gore and more sadism to attract attention, Blacklands heads in its own direction. In fact Bauer goes out of her way to avoid being graphic, while making it clear that Avery is a monster. This light touch sets it apart from much of what's on the market today.

Characterisations more than do justice to the plot, and we're taken inside the heads of a twelve-year old and a serial killer with equal conviction, thinking, seeing and feeling what they do .

This is a gripping and believable read, created with spare and beautiful prose. Highly recommended.
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91 of 98 people found the following review helpful
"Blacklands" is a British mystery and an exercise in psychological suspense. It is a debut novel from Belinda Bauer, who has worked as a journalist and screenwriter. She won the Carl Foreman/BAFTA Award for Young British Screenwriters and was a runner-up in the Rhys Davies Short Story Competition for her short story "Mysterious Ways." Bauer was raised in England and Africa, and now lives in Wales.

The novel concerns 12-year old Steven Lamb, a small, but seemingly ordinary boy. However, he is anything but ordinary. Eighteen years ago, his eleven-year old uncle Billy Peters disappeared. Most residents of his village, Shipcott, assume he has been murdered, and buried on Exmoor, the seaside moor that surrounds them. After all, only two years later Arnold Avery confessed to killing six other children and burying them on the surrounding moors. But Steven's grandmother doesn't believe her favorite child is dead, and she spends her days standing lonely guard at the front window of their home, waiting and watching for the boy's return. In fact, the entire family, Steven's Mum, and his younger brother Davey, are still suffering the aftereffects of Billy's mysterious disappearance. So Steven spends every spare minute digging up the moor, looking for Billy's body. Until, that is, he gets the bright idea of writing Avery in prison, seeking further information. A dangerous cat and mouse game ensues; and Steven is just a young boy.

Debut novel or not, this is a well-done mystery. The plot is tight and suspenseful; writing is good, whether narrative, descriptive, or dialog. Bauer has created excellent, vivid characters in Steven, his family, friends, and enemies, and the murderous Avery. She also has done an excellent job of giving us the atmosphere of a small, isolated village; and the moors that surround this particular one: her descriptions of the flora and fauna are fine. I look forward to her next.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 16 April 2010
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I picked this up in a bookshop and registered it on my "books to read" list, only for it to appear through Amazon Vine, so I ordered a copy, and was not disappointed - part of the appeal was the Mo Hayder comment on the inside cover, an author whose books I have read and in the main enjoyed (and whose The Treatment covers a similar subject matter, albeit in the present day rather than crimes past).

I agree with other reviews, it is not an out an out crime novel, more of a an exploration into the long term effects a child abduction and subseqent murder can have on a family. The story is very bleak, in not only the main subject matter, but also you sense a dark location (it seems to be raining continually during the scenes set on Exmoor) and in the way Stephen, the main character lives, both at home, and at school, where he is the victim of his circumstances and continually bullied by a group of "hoodies". After discovering what happened to his uncle, one of the victims of a convicted child murderer, Stephen becomes obsessed with discovering the location of where he [his real uncle - his Mother calls her boyfriends his "uncles"] is buried, which leads to him developing a "relationship" through a series of letters with Arnold Avery, the man convicted. As soon as the killer realises he is exchanging correspondence with a young boy, things take a dark and sinister turn. The way Bauer deals with the killer is excellent, particularly how he does not feel he is "strange", it is the rest of society which is.

Well written, even though it is a difficult read due to the subject matter and therefore it would be strange to say enjoyable - intriguing is probably the best word; however the way in which the stories work together (the horrific crimes humankind can do to one another, and a boys' "coming of age" and a faimily's need for closure) means you want to keep turning the pages to the very end, although there is one chapter, which I found unnecessary and added little to the story and indeed removes mcuh of the "believiablilty" of the book (which prevents the book from receiving a 5 star review), which concerns a shooting range and the son of one of the original victims.... too much of a chance event in my mind.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 10 October 2010
I was given this book as a gift some time ago, and was not disappointed!

The book is about Steven, a 12 year old boy who is forced to communicate with a serial killer in order to find his uncle's missing body. The way all of the characters (including the serial killer) interact with each other, and the level of description used to form an image of them in our minds is so astounding that you are interested to discover what will happen to them, and at the same time is not so detailed that the pace of the story slows down.

It is a very entertaining read (I couldn't put it down!), and the amount of research invested into creating the story and its backdrop can be clearly seen. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants something different from all the other cliched crime novels currently on the market, and also anyone who wants a fantastic read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I was very keen to read Blacklands, and I wasn't disappointed. It's the story of Steven Lamb, a 12 year old boy whose Uncle Billy was murdered by a serial killer 19 years previously, when Billy was only 11. Steven's nan still waits at the window, looking for Billy coming home, because his body was never found. Steven decides that he could make his family happier, and therefore his home life better, by finding his uncle's body, and this leads him to contact Arnold Avery, the killer, in prison. What follows is a chilling correspondence between Steven and Avery.

This book is quite unusual in that the chapters involving Steven do feel like they are from a 12 year old's perspective, but the chapters involving Avery are so chilling, when he relives his child killing spree, that I found them quite disturbing. I think it led me to dream a fair bit when I was reading this book! The story obviously has its roots in real-life, well-known, murders, and I think that was always in the back of my mind.

It's a very well-written book, and the reader is pulled along with the story through to its gripping conclusion. I'll be interested to see what Belinda Bauer comes up with next. Recommended for those who like a psychological thriller.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 May 2010
I find it really difficult to review this one. It's a dark, gritty, heavy going, but ultimately thought provoking novel that will stay with you long after you've read it.

I enjoyed the original premise of the novel - that of the young brother of a murder victim writing to a serial killing paedophile (redolent of the Moors murders and the victims that were denied and never found) to try to find his Brother's body in the hope that it will in some way mend his broken family and give them some peace and closure. It's both heart-breaking and hopeful, and deals sympathetically with a difficult subject. It does paint an honest picture of what one would picture is the familial desolation caused by such a tragedy. The paedophile is a frightening and psychologically devious monster, the boy is like a lamb to the slaughter (I just wanted to hug the poor loveless mite throughout this!) putting himself in harms way of an evil deviant whose urges are awoken by his contact and cannot be contained. Scary stuff!

Although the novel has a bleak premise, there are moments of pure childish humour to lighten the load (and remind you of how it is to be a child and how simple and direct your thoughts were)I loved the touching ending with his emotionally thawing Grandmother giving the novel a hopeful end.

I've given this a 5-star rating simply because it is an original, well-written, darkly psychological novel that deals with difficult subject matter in an intelligently sympathetic way. It is not gratuitous in any way, but this is not a read for the light-hearted or those with a sensitive disposition.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 7 February 2010
Hugely well done to Belinda Bauer for her debut novel Blacklands. I was already a fan having seen and also loved the film Happy Now, for which she was the screen writer. The writing is tight but engaging, the character of Steven is endearing and completely convincing as a 12-year-old boy going through the gamut of emotions from deep despair and frustration at things beyond his control to believing himself capable of changing his world for the better. The roller-coaster ride he is on is at it's height in what he comes to call the "sheepsjaw incident" and as the reader you're soaring sky high with him one minute and plunged to the depths at the next. The character of Avery, like many reviewers, I found an uncomfortable place to go in my own head, but these people walk among us in real life as we all too tragically know and their revolting crimes are reported on all too frequently in our media. In Blacklands Bauer gives an insight, albeit imagined, into the dark, twisted thinking that could justify in one's own mind what is such abhorrent evil in others. As the plot gathers pace it does race a little wildly towards the end, but it's a giddy journey that takes the reader hurtling along with it, so that as you enter the final chase it's unputdownable. Finally, as a keen moor walker I can attest that the writing evokes a true sense of the setting on Exmoor and Dartmoor. A great read and a great achievement. Looking forward to the next one!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 8 April 2010
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Black Lands - Belinda BAUER

BAUER has created a masterpiece here. The story is about Steven, an 12 year old boy, whose life is extremely sad, and comes across as someone much older than his years, yet, is still a child. His uncle, Billy, went missing at about the same age as Steven is now. His body was never discovered, although his killer is in prison, but has never disclosed where he buried the body of Billy.

Steven's nan just sits and stares out the window, and does very little else. Steven believes that if the body of his uncle was found, it would help his nan. Steven's mother seems to have very little time for her son, but the only time that some kind of normal homelife develops, is when Steven's mum has one of her boyfriends, with Uncle Jude being Steven's favourite.

Steven starts out by trying to find where the body is buried somewhere on Exmoor, but because of some encouragement in school, Steven discovers he has a talent for writing letters. He decides to write to the killer, to ask him where the body is buried.

What Billy doesn't realise is that by writing to the killer, he puts his own life in danger until it is too late.

BAUER has a definite talent for writing crime fiction, and one where the story keeps moving and changing, keeping the reader on edge, and wanting Steven to find the truth for his nan. As Val McDermid writes, this book hits the ground running.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 7 January 2011
This book took me to the edge of horror, placed me in my worst nightmare and terrified me through the eyes of a child. The main character of Blacklands is twelve year old Steven. Steven's uncle was killed as an eleven year old child and his body was never found. Steven's home life isn't great. He's one of two children but he isn't the favourite. He's one of the poorer kids. He fights for attention in a house with no love. And he thinks by finding his uncle's body, everything will be okay again. Through Steven, Belinda shows perfectly how a child's mind works in that situation.

But Belinda also gets into the mind of a child killer. Doing that mustn't have been easy. I admire anyone for taking on anything that could be utterly devastating for the author in terms of sales and bad press. It wasn't easy reading at times, yet it was compelling reading. I had to turn the pages to know what happened to Steven. Belinda took me right to the edge of my comfort zone, to the brink of `Oh, no. I can't read any further' - with one particular sentence. And then it was over. The most perfect place to end the suspense.

The writing was superb. The pace was breathtaking. The detailing was perfect. And like I was told, it will stay with me for a long time.
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