by Belinda Bauer
When Eileen Bright has car trouble one August afternoon, she pulls to the side of the highway, tells her three children to stay put while she looks for a phone to call for help.
It’s a hot day. Eileen is heavily pregnant. She puts her 11-year-old son Jack in charge. The children are restless. Time passes. They get anxious. Jack decides they should follow their mother and see what’s keeping her.
As they walk, none of the passing cars stop to offer help. Eventually, they see the call box. The receiver is dangling. There’s no sign of their mother. Then a police car pulls up.
Most mysteries focus on the detective solving the crime, the crime, the perpetrator or the victim. This book focuses on Jack, left in charge on the day of his mother’s murder.
Grief shatters the family. The Bright children never return to school. Arthur Bright, their father, never returns to work. He spends hours scouring multiple newspapers every day searching for information about the police investigation, overlooked clues or theorizing about what happened and who did it. Two years later, he leaves the house to get milk and never comes back.
The house fills up with stacks of newspapers until there’s barely a place to sit. Jack’s sister Joy sleeps in a pile of crumbled newspaper like a hamster because her bed is piled with newspapers. The brittle yellowing pages are the only connection Joy has left to her parents. She is adamant they not be thrown out.
Everything is in Jack’s hands again.
This is an ingeniously crafted novel with great depth of character. It’s easy to see why it was considered for the 2018 Man Booker Prize — a rare event for a crime novel. Jack is a poignant protagonist: young, inexperienced, powerless and yet canny enough to keep up appearances so that Social Services won’t put him and his sisters in foster care.
In the end, it is Jack who finds the one thing that gives investigators something to work with. While the police do their best with Jack’s new clue, Jack is the one who sees justice done. The book ends where it began. Only now, Jack has discharged his responsibilities.
About the Author: Belinda Bauer (1962 – )
For years, Belinda Bauer was haunted by a still unsolved 1988 murder along Britain’s M50. The victim, Marie Wilks, was pregnant and had gone to call for help when her car stopped working.
Eventually, her 11-year-old sister took Wilks’ one-year-old son and started walking along the road on a hot day. No one stopped for them.
That image inspired Snap (2018), her eighth novel. The novel was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2018, one of the few crime novels ever so honored. The judges described it as “an acute, stylish, intelligent novel about how we survive trauma.”
Bauer had never read a crime novel before writing her debut novel, Blacklands (2010), at the age of 45. The story focuses on a boy who begins writing the imprisoned pedophile serial killer believed to have murdered his uncle. She wrote a second novel, High Rollers, although neither publishers nor agents seemed interested in either manuscript.
A friend brought a magazine announcing a competition sponsored by the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) for unpublished writers. She was shortlisted but didn’t win with Blacklands, although she did get the attention of an agent who sold the book in a week. Ultimately, the book won the CWA’s Golden Dagger award, rarely given to debut novels.
Bauer told reporter Alison Flood of The Guardian in 2018 that she was initially frustrated to be pigeon-holed as a crime writer, but came to realize that she could write any story she wanted within the genre.
Bauer grew up in England and South Africa and worked as a journalist and a screenwriter before starting her first novel.