The Beautiful Dead
Belinda Bauer
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Buy *The Beautiful Dead* by Belinda Baueronline

The Beautiful Dead
Belinda Bauer
Atlantic Monthly Press
320 pages
January 2017
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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The Beautiful Dead builds on author Belinda Bauer's hard-hitting crime dramas cleverly combining boot-in-the-door-type police procedurals with three-dimensional characters and a series of gory shock tactics that are her trademark métier. True to its title, this novel creeps under the reader’s skin, much like the predatory serial killer who restlessly cruises through a modern-day media landscape. Struggling reporter Eve Singer, crime correspondent for IWitness news, has endured three years of gory murder scenes before being called to the body of 24-year-old Layla Martin, found stabbed in the foyer of an Oxford Street office building.

It’s just few weeks before Christmas, and Eve has not yet gotten around to doing her Christmas shopping. She constantly worries about her father, Duncan, who suffers from Alzheimer’s and has become increasingly untethered from reality. Eve's boss is pressuring her to get the best shot. Someone obviously went to a lot of trouble to give Layla’s murder a theatrical and choreographed look. This resourceful murderer is obviously intent to throw in his lot with Eve. He’s a new kind of serial killer who revels in his affinity with the bottom-feeders who supply media infotainment with its daily supply of murder, mayhem and malfeasance.

After a close-up encounter under the silvery lights of Eve’s home on College Road, Bauer’s novel becomes ripe for complications, secrets, and revelations. The focus of the investigation soon turns to the killer’s attempts to manipulate Eve. Tying the different strands of the plot together, Bauer brings Eve, Joe, and the current DI assigned to the case, Huw Rees, into the world of art and theater and the twisted intrigues of a misunderstood young boy. Trying to use her as a conduit for his plans, the killer tells Eve to paint a vivid picture of a life-and-death struggle that will soon unfold in the form of mock violence.

Faced with numerous challenges--from the killer’s unexpected calls and the pressure from her boss to her attraction to Joe, her kindly photographer colleague--Eve has a lot to attend to. Most urgent is her father’s illness, which seems to have overtaken her. There’s also the welfare of her neighbor who has his own secret sorrows, and the dire warnings of feisty Detective Emily Aguda. Aguda thinks a reporter should not be “recruited to hunt out serial murderers.” After three more grisly murders, Eve finds herself unable cope. Amid sleepless nights “when your only companion was a young girl pin-wheeling into the path of a train,” Eve comes to the realization that she’s built a whole career on the bones of the dead and the tears of the bereaved.

Eve wanders the streets of wintry London with Joe and his digital camera, trying to outwit Aguda in the race to find the killer before he strikes again: “To catch a killer, you have to think like a killer.” Bauer leads us on a Dante-like journey through a news culture where violence, gore, and reality-charged crime reporting have become the bread and circus of an image- and anxiety-driven era. She presents a chilling retrospective of a warped mind who advertises his crimes while cutting a bloody swathe through the central heart of the City. As Eve takes out her phone and films herself reporting on yet another brutal death, the murderer’s comments continue to haunt her: “Be honest Eve. We both crave death. And an audience.”

Bauer derives cynical humor from her killer’s rhetoric of bargaining positions and his seedy danse macabre that captures “the wonderful essence of an unscheduled death.” Eve is always a joy to read. Her hardened fragility and her go-getting nature make her the perfect provocateur and one of the most sympathetic and likable characters to pop up in recent British crime fiction.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2017

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