Belinda Bauer
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Buy *Snap* by Belinda Baueronline

Belinda Bauer
Atlantic Monthly Press
352 pages
July 2018
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In 1998, Eileen--mother of Jack, Merry, and Joy--goes missing. Three years later, Catherine While is terrorized by a dark intruder. The reader quickly learns that the events are somehow connected. Catherine aches for the security of her husband, Adam, who is currently away, working in Chesterfield. DI John Marvel is assigned to sort out who is terrorizing Catherine after being knocked off course from heading a murder team in London.

Snap, however, is much more than a story about a murderer or a home invasion. Jack was an inquisitive eleven-year-old when Eileen went missing on a hot day in August. Jack knows he's in trouble. He reaches a scrubby little apple tree, where he and Merry and Joy linger for a moment, in the shade and on the hard shoulder of the motor way, right near the place where his mother has just abandoned them. In the aftermath, Jack, Merry, Joy and their father are their father are slowly but relentlessly buried in their house, under a mountain of newspapers as high as Jack's head.

Jack's viewpoint is authentic. He behaves like a teenager with all of the frustration this time of life brings. In anger, he turns to Tiverton's reasonable subclass of petty thieves and burglars. Eventually Jack is pulled into the orbit of local criminal Louis Bridge, who teaches him how to get into houses and stay out of prison. Jack is brilliant from the start. Being a burglar was not a job to which he'd ever aspired, but he takes it as seriously as if he's designed for "a Premiership football team."

Catherine's view of her world and the reality of Adam's past form the core of the novel, intertwining with the mystery of what really happened to Eileen. Marvel and his colleague DC Reynolds arrive at Catherine's to investigate. She tells them about the special knife left behind by the intruder. Catherine's panicky mind darts from one dreadful conclusion to the other. She neglects to tell Adam about the burglary, the strange, sinister note, the cake on the kitchen floor, and the late-night phone call: "I don't care about any of this. A man broke into our house. He threatened to kill me."

While the reader bears the full brunt of Catherine's desperation, Jack sees it as a chance to investigate Eileen's vanishing by finally making connections and unraveling all the knots. Jack knows where the proof is. Once he brings it out into the light, he'll see it, "like one of Merry's vampires." Marvel and Reynold's somber nods and murmurs of recognition are a strangely encouraging experience and hard-won conquest for a boy so used to being invisible.

Though the novel never really reaches the power of her first classic, the darkly compelling Black Lands, Bauer construcgts a fairly compelling coming-of-age mystery. From the dysfunction of Jack's famiy to Marvel's growing distrust that something is very wrong in Catherine While's life, investigating a murder becomes like a "jigsaw puzzle in the dark...trying to make things fit." When Jack tells Marvel that he's found the knife that he thinks killed his mother in the house he burgled, Marvel wonders whether the revelation is just another twisted vision of a disturbed child. The truth of that day on the M1 is sealed someplace in Jack's subconscious, a collection of imprecise recollections that Jack wishes would stop. It's "as if he'd been stuck there ever since this mother had disappeared and everything that had happened since was a dream, a mirage, a fake life that he couldn't discover how to escape."

Jack might be a "dirty angry sneaky little thief," but he also becomes Bauer's reluctant anti-hero, leading the detectives on a mission to link Eileen's disappearance to the secrets that lie with Catherine. Though Bauer milks the comicality a bit too much in places, it's to her credit that she can expose her characters' flaws--but not before she shows us Jack's fatigue and grief and anger and hate as he searches for justice, with Marvel by his side.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2018

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