“Investigating a murder was like doing a jigsaw puzzle in the dark. The constant fingertip-feeling and testing and turning. The picking up and the putting down and the picking up again. The trying to make things fit.”
I was pleased to see Belinda Bauer make the booker long list. Given that Val McDermid is on the judging panel (and the book jacket) it is perhaps not a huge surprise, but it is still a surprise as genre fiction and crime fiction tend to get overlooked by Booker.
Booker Judges’ comment: “An acute, stylish, intelligent novel about how we survive trauma. Expertly paced, Snap offers a beautiful evocation of the lives of children, and how they perceive and manage tragedy. It undermines the tropes of its own genre, and leaves us with something that lingers.”
I’m a fan of Bauer and had read all but one of her previous novels and enjoyed them.
Snap is a story told via the third-person from the perspectives of multiple characters. It centres around the murder of a pregnant woman Eileen Bright. When her car breaks down on the motorway she leaves her children Jack, Joy and Merry in their car while she walks along the hard shoulder to get to a roadside telephone. She never returns. Three years on Jack (still just 14) and his sisters live alone – their father long gone – surviving on money made through Jack’s burglary. His occasional habit of taking a nap in children’s beds earns him the nickname Goldilocks by the local police.
Meanwhile another pregnant woman, Catherine, is home alone when she thinks she hears an intruder. She thinks she’s scared him off but finds a knife on her bedside table with a note saying: “I could have killed you.” Worried about her own state of mind, and not wanting her husband Adam to fuss, she decides not to call the police.
At the police station DI John Marvel has arrived from London (and in particular, my local cop shop – Lewisham). Clearly been demoted and sent to the sticks Tiverton in Devon he’s alarmed to discover his new patch doesn’t really have much call for homicide detectives.
Three separate threads, but all destined to be woven together as the story progresses.
This is a book that will either grip you from its first chapter or not. For me, the opening chapters were particularly tense and immediately pulled me in. The darkness and the humanity here are part of what makes Bauer an interesting author. She also writes and understand children and childhood well and Jack and the trauma he and his sister experience feel very real.
The flipping of perspectives as we jump back and forth between characters is handled well and all have distinct voices and styles – the interactions between Marvel and his DS, Reynolds provide some light humour. The one missed step – though the rest of the book potentially falls down without it – is Catherine NOT reporting the break in, the knife and the “I could have killed you.” note. This does stretch credibility to breaking point, but if you are willing to forgive the book that, the rest flows satisfactorily towards its end.
I enjoyed Snap. Does it undermine the tropes of its own genre? For me, no, not really, but that doesn’t get in the way of it being a good book. Booker winner? NO. Bauer’s best book? No.
“He wondered suddenly if that’s how everybody constructed their own past – with the experiences of others, and photos and headlines and snatches of reality, all mashed together into memories they claimed as their own. For the first time, he thought that the photo of them all, happy and with the wind in their hair, might never have existed either. Maybe it was all in his head and he’d only imagined it on the fridge, and the little frame he’d stolen from HomeFayre would be empty for ever.”