Sometimes authors really do burst upon the scene; I remember the year Belinda Bauer seemed to pick up a bouquet of prizes at the CWA awards dinner. From me, she gets the Humane Detection award many times over, and Snap, her latest book, is at her confident best. Like Mick Herron, she can tell a story, take the point of view of her characters, and—wonderfully—seed them along the way so that they can flower.
A very pregnant mum is driving her three children along a motorway when her car conks out. She pulls over to the verge, gets out of the car, and heads off to the nearest roadside rescue phone (remember those?). Her children are worried when she doesn’t return, and set off to try to find her, but they never see her again. Her widowed husband can’t cope and deserts them; his oldest child (Jack, eleven) takes over, calculating that the only way to keep his siblings out of Care is to man up and be mother and father to them. This involves him becoming ‘Goldilocks’, the cat burglar with over a hundred break-ins to his name, and a target for the local police. He keeps the home fires burning as best he can, but over almost three years becomes increasingly distraught about his inability to be a grown-up who takes charge. He is fourteen before he succeeds in turning himself in. In the course of his thieving, he only takes food that is good for him and his siblings (‘no McDonalds’, as one of the cops points out). Desperate for help, he turns to a very pregnant woman and writes her threatening notes intended to provoke her into ringing the police. But she doesn’t.
Quite by coincidence (well, it is crime fiction after all), he has stumbled upon the man who killed his mother, and has taken the man’s precious knife. Meanwhile, a quiet nick morphs into something more or less incredible, as the cops try to find the source of the murder weapon. What follows is so complicated that the cops need to recruit Goldilocks to help them track down the killer (because he’s a skinny boy with cat burglar credentials). Additionally, some of the twists are hiding in plain sight. It may be necessary for readers used to the addict’s full cracking-on to dog-ear some of the pages (OK, of course not if you’re using an e-reader, but you see what I mean). I have to leave you now, for all the traditional no-spoiler reasons. Nevertheless, it’s quite something to have a young teenager at the heart of the matter.
Belinda Bauer, Snap, Penguin Random House/ Transworld