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4.2 out of 5 stars
270
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 13 July 2015
This is such a touching story about how the murder of a child affects generations of the family left to deal with it, especially when the child has never been found. It is told mainly through the eyes and thoughts of Steven Lamb. Steven aged 12 is quite a neglected little boy who wants to have a normal family. One not filled with sadness, one where he can be loved. He lives with his little brother Davey, mum Lettie and Nan. Steven's uncle Billy went missing when he was only 11, Steven's Nan, Mrs. Peters waited day after day for Billy to come home but this would never happen. She knows he is dead and has been all these years but Steven still sees her watching. Mum Lettie has a string of boyfriends and little time for Steven, Davey has always been her favourite "a sweet little boy how could anyone not love him" . Every day Steven goes out onto Exmoor with a spade and digs hoping one day to find his uncle Billy's remains hoping that this will make his family love him. Sometimes even his friend Lewis helps.
One person knows where his Uncle Billy is buried, the man that murdered him. Steven begins to correspond with the killer Arnold Avery. Writing in code Steven writes a letter as he has been shown how to in school, very polite and ending faithfully S.L.
This is such an extremely well written book, your heart bleeds for this little boy. It still sends shivers up my back when I think of the letters that pass between Steven and Arnold Avery. The end is awesome.
This is a must read.
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on 21 December 2016
Agree with previous posts - a serious effort, well written, quite believable, rather dark. I read it all through in a day and will get some more of this author's work.
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on 18 April 2014
Had to buy this after all the hype.
The premise is brilliant and I really enjoyed it. Shared with some of the girls to mixed reviews, you probably have to be a crime fiction fan for it, but even a passing interest in the whole Moor's murders will be enough to get you hooked.
I bought the follow up on the strength of this one, so that say's enough i think!
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on 12 June 2017
as always a very good read
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on 14 October 2015
Three stars only for this book have read more of this author before and enjoyed them but found this one hard to get going
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on 20 August 2017
It's hard to believe that this is a first book. Excellent writing, believable characters. Very dark though.
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on 18 July 2017
All great.
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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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on 26 March 2017
Blacklands was the debut novel from Belinda Bauer and was originally released at the end of 2009 but it unfortunately never reached my radar. Since then I have heard much praise of her work and on the strength of this impressively assured and genuinely original novel I will certainly be keen on reading more. In the cluttered world of crime fiction it is astonishing rare to find both a unique and highly compelling debut, but Blacklands is that very thing. Unsettling and authentic to the point of being harrowing on occasions, Bauer has produced an atmospheric and sinister portrayal of a cat and mouse game between a twelve-year-old boy and a sociopathic serial killer. Motivation for vulnerable Steven when he steps into the lions den is the prospect of reuniting his family where resentment and bitterness permeate the stifled atmosphere of a home where a child, believed murdered, fills every moment of the silence.

Steven's nan started life as Gloria Manners, became Ron Peter's wife and graduated to Billy and Lettie's mum. Since the disappearance and presumed murder of Billy by serial killer Arnold Avery she has simply become Poor Mrs Peter's and stands tetchily by the window awaiting her son's return. But Mrs Peter's is the only person who believes Billy will one day come home. 111 Barnstaple Road, Shipcott is far from home sweet home. Earnest Steven with his unsympathetic home life has determined to locate Billy's remains and offer his nan some much needed closure. He spends hours after school and at the weekends digging holes on the moors, all carefully charted on an Ordnance Survey map and the approximate measurements of a boy only a year younger than himself. The excitement when he discovers a jawbone and tooth is only matched by his anger when his find is fully unearthed and is very clearly the remains of a sheep. It is this discovery and disappointment that brings home the futility of his endeavour. In a bid to salve the wounds of the past, Steven pens a letter to the serial killer behind bars with the aim being to draw out the burial site where his deceased uncle lies below the soil. The complicated array of emotions that drive Steven's nan and mother are still raw, but can Steven's efforts to engage uncle Billy's presumed killer into revealing the whereabouts of his buried body provide an answer for his nan and some of the scars?

Blacklands exudes a menacing level of suspense as the slow burning correspondence of Steven and Arnold Avery gains momentum, each letter open to endless interpretation and offering a sociopath a chance of revel in the memories of his crime. In short, Steven's letters are manna from heaven for Avery, all centering around his favourite topic and freshly dissecting the memories of his depraved behaviour. But can a twelve-year-old boy ever be a match for a calculated monster with six dead bodies the pinnacle of his sick achievements? As the correspondence and cryptic notes progress, the subtle shifts in the balance of power over time are brilliantly exposed.

When Avery requests a photo of Dunkery Beacon, the highest part of the moor and close to where all the bodies have so far been found, Steven obliges. However his blurry image is reflected in the wing mirror of a car and ignites a burning desire in Avery to escape his confines and go in search of Steven. For Avery the chance of replacing his fantasy with the real thing awakens his senses and the photo in an invitation which restores him to the driving seat. Driven to stage a cunning plan to escape the walls of Langmoor Prison, Arnold Avery is primed to engineer another encounter with a young boy against the backdrop of the moor where he committed his original crimes. His devious method is to send a postcard to his intended victim depicting Exmoor blanketed in purple heather and inscribed with a single location - 'BLACKLANDS', setting up a confrontation with the past and an anger in Steven that he has fallen into the very trap he baited and set for Avery. But just who will win the final war, Steven Lamb and his family or Arnold Avery? All is revealed in a stunning denouement.

The precise prose and seeming simplicity that is the basis for Bauer's writing reminds me of the crisp elegance of Karin Fossum and the author's ability to tap into the heart-rending emotions of Steven and the chilling calculation of a serial killer reads so authentically and keeps the reader fixated. Charged and poignant, Bauer manages to portray a child trapped in a heartbreaking cat and mouse pursuit. Admittedly Steven is mature for his age and has built up an extensive background on serial killers and their behavioural traits and predilections, but Blacklands reveals how even the most determined boy is no match for a ruthless serial killer. Bravo!

Review written by Rachel Hall (@hallrachel)
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on 24 February 2015
This was our book club read. I read it but I could not say I enjoyed it. The subject matter bordered on sick. I am a fan of crime novels and looked forward to this, though soon discovered it was not the usual police procedural I am so fond of. In fact it is unusual as no police feature in the story at all. Set in the present day in a fictional village in Somerset, we are introduced to Steven Lamb who is 12 and from a dysfunctional family. His family is fractured by the death of his uncle Billy, whom he never met and who was murdered 19 years ago. His body was never found but the person responsible, a notorious paedophile serial killer, has been in jail for 18 years serving a life sentence for these murders.

Steven thinks that if he can find the site where Uncle Billy was buried, he may be able to find closure for his mother and grandmother and heal the family’s wounds. Told in the third person, we are first introduced to Steven when he is digging – as he has been doing for the last few years – in the hope of finding Uncle Billy. We quickly feel sorry for Steven. He has a feckless mother, long divorced by the sounds of it, the only father figures a succession of “uncles”. Steven and his brother Davey live in poverty, don’t have the right trainers, and Steven is bullied at school by three hoodies. Steven is however very intelligent. He has done his research – reading books about serial killers and their crimes – which has improved his reading age. He is smart and perceptive.

The book switches between narratives of Steven’s life and that of Arnold Avery, the killer. Steven decides that Avery can provide him with the information he needs – the site where Billy is buried – and sends him a letter to prison. This is where the “game” begins and we see how perceptive and smart Steven is whilst also how naive he is. Many drafts later, he comes up with a letter written partly in code, and the correspondence begins. He has no idea how the events will turn out and he sets a nightmare in motion.

We get to see inside the mind of a truly depraved individual and I found this distasteful and disgusting. The guy is still manipulative, depraved, evil and sick and takes this opportunity to have a little bit of fun. I did not like reading about this character, or the way his mind worked. Steven’s correspondence lets him relive what he did and get depraved perverted kicks from it. I hated reading this. He has behaved himself in prison in order to get out and do exactly the same again. It is a compulsion.

Much is made of the mist on Exmoor which adds to the creepy atmosphere; this is replicated in the house Steven lives in which is unpleasant. His grandmother is a bitter and twisted old lady (with some good reason one may think) and the permeating atmosphere is one of oppression and depression and unhappiness. He receives very little love and affection in his life; there are only nuggets – a pair of socks knitted for him by his nan, which get ruined by the bullies; his Uncle Jude, who helps him create a vegetable patch, but which gets ruined by his only friend Lewis and Uncle Jude walks out anyway, and the only time Steven receives any validation or recognition is at the end of the book when it is very nearly too late. He isn’t even recognised at school – the teachers think his name is Simon. He has nothing much in his life and the Uncle Billy mission gives his life purpose and meaning for a while.

I was glad to get to the end of it, and I wanted to find out what happened – there is some resolution at the end between Steven and his nan and his friend Lewis. At the end of it, I felt that after reading about Avery, prison, Steven’s house etc I needed a bath.

It is interesting to see what resonance a crime has throughout the years and throughout the family, and Steven was a character you could feel for, sympathise with and want everything to turn out right for.
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