Blacklands by Belinda Bauer

I rarely abandon a novel once I have started reading it, but six months ago I did just that with Blacklands by Belinda Bauer. I am happy I gave it a second chance.


Steven’s family (mother, younger brother, and grandmother) is haunted by the past. Steven’s uncle Billy disappeared almost 20 years ago, and everyone assumed that the serial killer Arnold Avery killed him, since he admitted to killing six other children. But Steven’s grandmother cannot get over the loss of her son, and she stands by the window waiting for him every day, while the rest of the family has to live in the shadow of what happened. Steve deals with it by digging. He is determined to find the spot where his uncle Billy is buried, somewhere on the desolate moor where the other children were found. When he finally accepts the impossibility of the task he decides to write to the prison where Avery is serving his lifetime sentence. The decision turns out to be the beginning of a dangerous game with deadly rules…

Not a Good Start

My reading did not get off to a good start. I got tired of Steven’s miserable life and a large part of the novel is dedicated to describing his world, and the way a broken family is ruled by the unmentionable. It is about Steven’s longing for a real dad, about his complicated friendship with his classmate Lewis, about vulnerability and poverty. It is described realistically and consciously. And maybe that was a bit too much for me, since I worked with vulnerable children at the time. The social realism simply had to wait until the next workday.

Strengths and Weaknesses

I am happy that I gave the novel a second chance. Despite a slow first half the pace picks up as Steven gets closer to Arnold Avery… Or is it the other way around? And the ending is really, really suspenseful, and extremely well written. Sometimes I think that Bauer gets lost in winding descriptions, e.g. what a person thinks while he is eating a sandwich or when he puts his socks on, which slows down the pace considerably. Also, an unusually large part of the book takes place in the mind of the characters, mainly Steven’s and Avery’s. It increases my understanding of Steven’s actions even though they are dangerous, and it lets you know how it can sound when a pedophile schemes his evil plan, but it also makes the book less suspenseful. The first two thirds of the novel seems to be a way for the author to explain why the characters act the way they do. It is very well done, but also somewhat monotonic. But still, I must recommend Blacklands! And now I am curious about Bauer’s other novels, Darkside, Finders Keepers, and Rubbernecker.

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