Thursday, February 18, 2010

But I thought they had CCTV cameras everywhere!

The infamous "Moors Murders" of the 1960s were a clear influence on author Belinda Bauer. Her book Blacklands deals with a child murderer who buried his victims on a moor outside the small town of Shipcott. Some of his victims were never found.

Eighteen years ago, Steven Lamb's uncle Billy was one of the victims of killer Arnold Avery. Twelve year old Steven and his younger brother Davie live with their mother and grandmother in a run-down house. The entire family is terribly dysfunctional and unhappy, and Steven thinks that if he can only discover his Uncle Billy's remains, his grandmother will cease to be so angry and they can have a normal family. Whenever he has a spare moment, Steven goes out with a shovel and digs random holes on the moor, hoping to find his uncle's grave.

When Steven gets praise from a teacher for a letter-writing assignment, he gets the idea to write to Avery in prison and ask for help in finding his uncle's body. Avery knows he'll never be released from prison, but he hasn't lost his obsession with children. He spends his days reliving his crimes. When he receives the letter, he doesn't at first realize it is from a child. Instead, he thinks he can use the opportunity to manipulate the letter writer into providing him with more mementos from his crimes. He asks his correspondent, "SL" to send him a photo of a certain area of the moor, to help him to pinpoint where he buried the body. In reality, he wants to be reminded of the place where he buried another victim. In taking the photo, Steven makes a critical mistake which will put his life in danger.

While this book was somewhat suspenseful, the depiction of poverty, hopelessness and despair was just too overwhelming. Of course, I had no illusions that a book which centered around a child killer would be uplifting, but even with him in prison, everyone is miserable and takes it out on the children who are left. Still, the book does end on a somewhat more hopeful note, so it wasn't a total downer.

Final verdict for Blacklands: Two gherkins, for being a page-turning, if somewhat depressing mystery

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