Publisher's Summary. 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 gravesite, 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 is a taut and chillingly brilliant debut that signals the arrival of a bright new voice in psychological suspense.
Review. Steven Lamb, a twelve year old school boy in Shipcott, England, has an unusual hobby: digging holes large enough to hold a boy’s body. Nearly every day after school Steven digs -- sometimes alone and sometimes with his best friend Lewis as an onlooker – searching for a boy his has never met: his Uncle Billy. Eighteen years prior, eleven year old Uncle Billy was murdered, but his body was never found. Pedophile Arnold Avery, convicted of the murders of six other local children, is believed to have killed Billy too.
During the intervening years, Steven’s grandmother lives in a perpetual state of waiting: waiting for her son to return home. While Steven’s mother lives an embittered life as single mother mourning the physical loss of her brother and the emotional loss of her mother. Steven believes that if he can only find Billy’s body then his joyless family will be transformed into a loving one. And so for three years he digs. One day, however, Steven realizes the futility of his random digging and decides to write to Avery in prison to learn where Billy’s body is buried. Steven’s innocent letter begins a psychological cat and mouse game between the smart, but naïve Steven and the clever, but pathological pedophile Avery, that ultimately entwines both Steven’s and Avery’s futures.
Blacklands by Belinda Bauer is an exquisitely written novel that operates on two levels. First, it is a taut psychological thriller between the aptly named Steven Lamb and the diabolical child killer Arnold Avery. Bauer’s writing immerses the reader in the minds of both the pedophile and the twelve year old boy. Reading Avery’s thoughts were sometimes highly disturbing, but always believable. Similarly, while Steven is clearly a very bright boy, his letters and thoughts were credible as those of a twelve year old. Blacklands is also, however, a poignant coming-of-age story of an ignored and little noticed boy trying desperately to heal his family. Steven is regularly beaten up by the local thugs, largely ignored by his mother and grandmother, forgotten by his teachers, and used by his best friend Lewis.
Blacklands is a story that is not to be missed!
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (January 5, 2010), 240 pages
Advance Review Copy Provided Courtesy of the Publisher.