Monday, June 28, 2010

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer *Review*

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.
But her twelve-year-old grandson Steven is determined to heal the cracks that gape between his nan, his mother, his brother, and himself. Steven desperately wants to bring his family closure, and if that means personally finding his uncle's corpse, he'll do it.
Spending his spare time digging holes all over the moor in the hope of turning up a body is a long shot, but at least it gives his life purpose.
Then at school, when the lesson turns to letter writing, Steven has a flash of inspiration... Careful to hide his identity, he secretly pens a letter to Avery in jail asking for help in finding the body of "W.P."- William "Billy" Peters.
So begins a dangerous cat-and-mouse game. Just as Steven tries to use Avery to pinpoint the grave site, so Avery misdirects and teases his mysterious correspondent in order to relive his heinous crimes. And when Avery finally realizes that the letters he's receiving are from a twelve-year-old boy, suddenly his life has purpose too. Although his is far more dangerous...
Blacklands was an interesting book in that it was written from a different point of view that most authors don't explore. In the author's note, Ms. Bauer explains about wondering how a murder impacts a family. Not just the victim's parents, but a whole generation of other victims, like in this novel- the grandson of a woman whose son Billy was murdered many years ago.
The loss of Uncle Billy, a boy Steven never knew is still a deep loss. The feelings of loneliness and pain that Steven feels are palpable. His life is always a shadow of what it could have been had his nan given him some attention rather than waiting at the window for Billy to come home from school, or if his own mother hadn't harbored such bitterness over feeling she was never cared for because nan neglected her childhood to wait by the window. All Steven wants is a happy, normal childhood. He longs for laughter, hugs, and approval.
That's why finding his Uncle Billy's body has become such an obsession. If Billy can finally be put to rest giving his nan some closure, maybe- just maybe- his family can move on.
The cat -and-mouse game that ensues as Steven starts writing letters, and letters from the prison start coming back is compelling. Steven is desperate to fulfill his mission and excited about figuring out the clues within them. Looking into the mind of a serial killer is always disturbing- particularly those of a sick and twisted rapist and murderer of children. But, I found Blacklands to be a book that made me look at things in a whole new light and any book that stretches my mind to wrap around a different image or feeling than one I'm used to conceiving is one I have to recommend. 4/5 stars