Friday 9 January 2015

The Facts of Life and Death by Belinda Bauer

Belinda Bauer writes a stonkingly good murder/suspense story, and The Facts of Life and Death is no exception. Written partly from the point of view of ten-year-old Ruby Trick, it describes the activities of a serial killer in coastal Devon. Young women are abducted, often at night, told to strip and then to phone their mothers, who have to listen to their daughters' final moments of distress. It is a cruel and chilling M.O.
    While this is all going on, Ruby has problems of her own. Her parents live in a run-down cottage in the small hamlet of Lymeburn on the coast. The walls are damp and the cottage is in a woeful state of disrepair. John Trick has been unemployed for two years - while Ruby's mother, Alison works long hours as a chef for a restaurant in a nearby town.
    We learn that the two are from very different families - John from a broken home, while Alison was the very beautiful daughter of middle class parents. Ruby seems to have been the reason for their early marriage, but now cracks are appearing in their relationship and they scarcely have a kind word for each other.
    Meanwhile tubby Ruby hangs out with a small group of Lymeburn kids - among whom she has a bit of a crush on Adam - dreaming of owning a pony and eating cookies and chocolate at every opportunity.
    Bauer has a particular gift with characters, which come to the page vividly believable and full of the quirks that make them interesting. I particularly enjoyed DC Calvin Bridge, the young copper, who has become a detective to avoid the hassle of keeping his uniform neatly ironed.
    Calvin's life gets very complicated when he is flung in at the deep end partnering the attractive DCI King on a difficult murder case. He makes some shocking gaffes in her presence while at home he foolishly agrees to marry his girlfriend so that she won't interrupt the sport he's watching on TV with floods of tears. He manages to redeem himself by spotting one or two clues, but the body count continues to rise.
    Belinda Bauer has created another atmospheric south of England setting with the wind, rain and sea all adding to the tension of a town under siege. It is the site of a once profitable ship building industry - the source of John Trick's redundancy - plus there is the small town snobbery and the meanness of children at school. Ruby gets her fair share of this, but fortunately has a kindly teacher.
    It all adds up to a story that reels you in, while the tension of a killer who begins to take more and more risks makes the story hum along. The inevitable is put in motion and the book finishes on a high point with all the key players plus the weather on a collision course that you can't tear yourself away from. I am glad that Bauer doesn't pump out her fiction as I was completely exhausted by the end and will need time to recover before I tackle another on her list.

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