Blacklands is one of those excellent books that is hard to recommend, a debut novel that is both compelling and deeply disturbing. Twelve-year-old Steven is on a mission. His Nan has never recovered from the disappearance of her son Billy. She still waits for him, though police are certain he was killed and buried like many other children on Exmoor. If Steven can only find Billy' s remains, his Nan will be able to relax her vigil and find closure to the misery stemming from Billy' s abduction. Young Steven imagines he might become famous, and that there might be a reward, and his family would heal. All he has to do is find Billy 's bones.
Once Steven hits on the idea of writing a letter to the killer, he begins a duel of wits, evading the prison censors to tease information out of a sickeningly evil man who is planning his escape so he can meet the boy who has become his obsession. Blacklands provides an outstanding character study of a young boy facing a challenge and rising to it. On the down side, the challenge he faces is finding out from an imprisoned pedophile where he buried one of his victims and the insight and literary skill that make the boy' s experience so real also make the book deeply troubling. One might wish Belinda Bauer had chosen a less distressing subject, but there' s no denying that Blacklands is a powerful, suspenseful, and extraordinarily evocative novel by a talented writer.