(Simon and Schuster, ISBN 978-1-4391-4944-7)
About 18 years ago, little Billy Peters went out to the store in his village and was never seen again. His mother waited by the window, waiting for the return that would never happened. It was presumed he was another victim of the serial killer that was caught and convicted of the death of several young boys and girls, their bodies buried in the nearby moor, but Arnold Avery never admitted that he had killed Billy and his body was never found.
While Billy's mom still waits at the window, her family is fracturing around her. So, 12 year old Steven decides he will find the body of his uncle, end his grandmother's vigil and bring his family back together. At first, he decided to wander around the moor in his free time, digging holes, hoping to be lucky and find the bones. In time though, he realizes how hopeless that idea is and decides upon a more direct approach. He decided to write to the killer, Avery, in prison and ask him where the body is buried. After almost two decades in prison, as a child rapist and murderer on the bottom scale of even the worse prison, at first Avery in amused and entertained by the notes he receives in the mail, signed only with "SL", asking for help in finding "WP", William Peters. For Avery, it is just a game, a game that feeds his sick fantasies about the murders.
"Avery could almost smell the moor. The rich, dap soil and the fragrant heather, combined with the faint odor of manure from the deer and ponies and sheep.
He thought first of Dunkery Beacon, where all his fantasies centered, before spreading like bony tendrils across the rounded hills. From there he would almost be able to identify the individual gravesites- not from the newsprint graphics but from the actual memory, the memory that had sustained him throughout his imprisonment and which still had the power to feed his nighttime fantasies. The thought alone brought saliva to his mouth, and he swallowed audibly."
But when Steven accidentally reveals a vital piece of information, the game takes on a much more frightening and deadly aspect.
This is Bauer's debut novel and a fine debut it is. It is not a complex book, not so much a mystery as a thriller following this one, obsessive idea. Bauer writes, in an "Author's Note" at the end of the book, that this novel grew out of the idea for a short story, of how a crime like a murdered child, could effect a family for years, even lifetimes. But what if someone in that family tried to break the bond that killer had on the family..and suddenly the whole thing just spirals out of control. That is the story of Blacklands, of a great character, young Steven, smart and brave, but still just a little boy, who, in an attempt to heal his family, sets a deadly chain of events into action, culminating in a taut and frightening ending.
I will certainly be watching for more of Bauer's work in the future.
My thanks to the reviews of Bibliophile By The Sea, Farm Lane Books and Scribbles, whose reviews...reviews that, no doubt, you will want to check out as well...led me to this book.
And to my local library that loaned it to me to read.