OK, so I am utterly at a loss to understand why I’ve waited so long to read Belinda Bauer. This is her latest novel and, I’m now ashamed to admit, the first I’ve read. I will be rectifying this almost immediately; I’ve just bought Rubbernecker and have added her complete backlist to my wishlist. Thank you so much to the publisher for providing me with a copy of The Shut Eye in exchange for a review – I’ve found a new favourite author as a result.
What the blurb says:
Five footprints are the only sign that Daniel Buck was ever here.
And now they are all his mother has left.
Every day, Anna Buck guards the little prints in the cement. Polishing them to a shine. Keeping them safe. Spiralling towards insanity.
When a psychic offers hope, Anna grasps it. Who wouldn’t? Maybe he can tell her what happened to her son…
But is this man what he claims to be? Is he a visionary? A shut eye? Or a cruel fake, preying on the vulnerable?
Or is he something far, far worse?
Yep. My heart thumped a little bit harder just reading the blurb again! I finished this novel some time ago now, but Anna’s story has stayed with me. I could feel her pain so acutely that I literally raced through the book, reading it in 24 hours flat. I just HAD to know what had happened to little Daniel. Was the story more powerful as I am a mother reading it? Maybe. But it is also without doubt one of the most intricately plotted novels I’ve read this year.
‘One hundred and twenty days ago, the door had been left open…’
How many parents pay to have their children’s footprints or handprints immortalised in plaster in one way or another? Most of us have done it. Perhaps that’s why the image of Daniel’s footprints in the cement is so poignant from the word go: ‘Five footprints in the cement. Five little footprints leading away from the sooty houses to who-knew-where…’ It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. You can’t help but walk in Anna’s shoes from the very start and of course, it’s an uncomfortable walk: ‘She knew she was going mad, but she didn’t know how to stop it any more than she knew how to stop crying or breathing’. As the reader, your heart breaks with her: ‘If [she] was crazy, she was crazy for all her own reasons. And they were reasons that were wholly understandable and unbearably sad’.
In contrast, I just loved the light relief (ironic in a policeman) provided by the character of DCI John Marvel. What a great name, and what a breath of fresh air as far as fictional detectives go: ‘The longer [he] worked in homicide, the more he disliked people. He’d never met one he didn’t hate – or despise… Along with fresh air and roughage, Marvel thought that children were overrated’. Having said which, nobody could possibly work harder to solve neither the Daniel Buck case nor that of Edie Evans – the other missing child case he’s working on when we meet him.
As well as the heartache surrounding the lost children, the reader watches as Anna and her husband James cling to the remains of their marriage: ‘With every beer he could do a better impression of a young man whose wife still loved him, and who hadn’t lost his son’. Because, unforgivably as far as either of them are concerned, it was James that left the front door open on that fateful day, four months previously.
Anna’s grief manifests itself in obsessive behaviour, which serves to worry her husband even more: ‘[She] could hear germs breeding on counter tops and under sofa cushions. They filled her mouth when she yawned and gritted her lids when she blinked…When Daniel came home, he would be so safe. Nothing would ever harm him again’. In light of later events (which I won’t go into here – this review is spoiler free), this obsessive behaviour only serves to discredit her further: ‘They all stood and watched her, stunned by the depth of her madness’.
No matter how tragic this story is in so many different ways, as the reader you are never left without hope and it is this hope that is addictive. It keeps you reading – in my case, in an obsessive manner reminiscent of Anna Buck herself. Interspersed with the more tragic elements of the story we also meet a whole host of other colourful characters from the is-he/isn’t-he Psychic, Richard Latham to Mitzi the poodle, to James’ work mates from the garage near his home.
There are so many seemingly inconsequential threads to this story – you only realise how they all weave together at the very end. Belinda Bauer is so incredibly clever – this novel completely captured me from the start and wouldn’t let go. It’s undoubtedly one of my top reads of 2015 so far and I urge you to buy it, read it and see what all the fuss is about for yourself.
‘Thinking about him keeps him alive for me… gives me hope, and hope keeps me alive for him’.
The Shut Eye was published on 12th March and is available in hardcover: The Shut Eye
Or kindle: The Shut Eye