I liked Belinda Bauer’s first two books, but this is not good.
Part of that is down to me and my particular tastes in crime fiction – but not all.
Let me explain.
It starts promisingly: children are disappearing from cars and notes are left in their stead.
“You don’t love her.”
“You don’t love him.”
“You don’t love them.”
The drama, the mystery, the evocation of the countryside and the rural community was working very well.
And I was pleased to see the return of Detectives Reynolds and Rice.
I could have got past the fact that so many horrible crimes were happening in Devonshire countryside
“These kidnaps are only the latest in a series of horrific crimes visited on the moor over the past 30 years. Between 1980 and 1983, serial killer Arnold Avery buried six young victims on Exmoor, and two years ago another murderous spree left eight people dead in the small town of Shipcott. The killer has never been caught. “Exmoor is cursed” said one elderly resident who did not want to be named.”
I probably would have got past it, if only Belinda Bauer hadn’t brought back two characters from earlier books and put them through the mill again. Investigators, criminals, locations can return over and over again, but to have the same lives turned upside-down by crime over and over again is too much.
Stephen Lamb had nearly fallen victim to Arnold Avery and had been horribly affected by the uncaught murderer. He was sure he knew who the killer was, but he couldn’t prove it and he knew he would not be believed if he spoke out. And village policeman Jonas Holly had been bereaved and left horribly traumatised by the same murderer.
Jonas wasn’t in any state to go back to work, let alone be part of a major investigation, and what Stephen and his poor mother have been put through over the course of three books defies belief.
And Davey, Stephen’s little brother, thinks he can catch the kidnapper …
I put my concerns to one side, because the mystery was intriguing.
But then a flashback gave the game away. I knew who the kidnapper was and I had a fair idea of his motivation was.
After that the story followed both victims and investigators to a grand denouement.
It all felt a little excessive to me.
Such a pity because Belinda Bauer does many things rather well.
The Lamb family – their lives their relationships – are drawn wonderfully. Stephen and Davey in particular are wonderful characters, and I love the way their lives are moving forward.
There are small details caught perfectly and big set-pieces handled beautifully.
She clearly knows the countryside, understand how village work.
And she handles mystery and suspense really well.
But too much was sacrificed to the big drama.
The most significant sacrifice was Jonas’s character: it was all over the place and the answers to the questions left unanswered at the end of the last book weren’t really satisfactory.
Others have liked this book more than me, so maybe I’m looking for something different in a crime drama. Something not quite so dark, something driven rather less by plot and rather more by character.
But the consensus seems to be that this isn’t as good as ‘Blacklands’ or ‘Darkside’.
I’m hoping now that this is the end of a trilogy, and that Belinda Bauer will move on to something a little different.
And I tend to think that stand-alone stories, or at least stories more loosely linked, would be a better way for her to go …