An out-and-out 5-Stars for this astonishingly good and very clever story.

I can’t tell you too much about Snap by Belinda Bauer without spoiling it for you. But I have to tell you it’s eminently worth reading and I give it 5-Stars. Yes, it’s crime fiction, but it’s so much else as well. It didn’t astonish me to find out later that it had been longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize.

The book was recommended to me by my daughter, who said: ‘Don’t read anything about this other than the resumé on the back. It’s full of surprises.’ How right she was. Before this I’d never heard of Belinda Bauer, but I’m very glad I know about her now. More books to discover.

The story
The plot summary on the back cover sets the scene: “It was nearly an hour since their car had coughed and spluttered and jerked and rolled to a crunchy halt on the hard shoulder of the southbound M5 motorway. That made it over half an hour since their mother had left them there to walk to an emergency phone. ‘Jack’s in charge. Stay in the car’, she said, ‘I won’t be long’. “

Without spoiling things, I can add that, after an hour’s wait, eleven-year-old Jack decides they must go and find her. So, carrying two-year-old Merry, he walks with his nine-year-old sister, Joy, along the side of the motorway. Cars and lorries thunder past but shockingly no-one stops to see if they are OK, until the police stop and their world shatters.

Fast forward three years and we meet the three children again, living alone together having fallen through the Social Services security net, and managing as best they can. Jack’s still in charge, supporting himself and his sisters, making sure nobody knows that they are alone in the house and then, quite suddenly, finding the truth about what happened to his mother.

As this is a piece of crime fiction there’s a brutal murder and the police get involved. The story is tense and exciting, convoluted but very clever. There are brief episodes of laugh-out-loud humour, and the surprises just keep coming, and coming, and coming. Every time I thought there could be no more, there was another twist.

The writing is easy and coherent. I found all the character, both children and adults, well described – so finely drawn that I could see them in my mind’s eye. There’s the DCI who has been transferred from London for some unknown misdemeanour, rough, coarse, and a bit of a bully, but who turns out to have hidden depth and comes through. The DS, who is very precise and proper, highly intelligent, but somewhat of a stickler for procedure; and the female DC, who is a bit of a party girl but, for all that, a good and thorough copper. And the children. I found myself rooting for them at every turn, no matter what they were doing. I almost felt I knew them.

My verdict
Did I like this book? Yes, very much. It was a rollercoaster of surprises, twist and turns, but also very solidly constructed. And you really engage with the characters and wish the best for them. The murder is central to the story, of course, but at times it feels almost incidental.

I very rarely give 5 stars, but here I must. If for nothing else then for the solid construction, the very human characters and the many surprises. And don’t forget, the word ‘snap’ can have several meanings!
Review by: Freyja

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