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Snap by Belinda Bauer
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Snap decisions can be dangerous.

We never meet Eileen Bright. Instead, we begin with a hot, airless car and her three small children: Jack, Joy and Merry. They fuss and bicker exactly as you would expect, but underneath their casual cruelties there is a deep fog of unease: their mother went to get help, but that was over an hour ago now.

Jack is eleven. Jack was left “in charge”, so he tries. He tries to entertain and reassure his small sisters, and when his mother still doesn’t return he tries to take practical steps to find her.

Three years later, Jack is still in charge - of his sisters, of their house, and - suddenly - of finding out what happened to his mother.

--- What’s it about? ---

A fierce, frightened boy doing what he can to hold his family together.

A family destroyed by loss and grief and mistakes.

Goldilocks. A cat burglar who hates happy families.

The possibility of healing offered by closure and family.

--- What’s it like? ---

Wonderful. Humorous. Full of heart.

Bauer simultaneously grips your heart and your head with a cast of characters you can’t help but care for and a crime you need to see solved.

Eileen’s almost complete absence from the novel accentuates her loss and her children’s need to a degree that makes their subsequent moods and attitudes completely understandable, and I loved the way the story gradually came together.

Expect a dose of police procedural, a scattering of thievery and many wry smiles.

--- Final thoughts ---

I absolutely loved this book.

There were a few details I thought could have been filled in more, and I think there’s a gap in the timeline, but the pacing, the characterisation and the careful unravelling of the drama is exquisite.

I remember loving Bauer’s debut novel, ‘Blacklands’ and, after receiving this confirmation of her mastery of the crime genre, I will definitely be seeking out the books she’s written in between.

Recommended. ( )
  brokenangelkisses | Jan 8, 2019 |
I found this Booker long listed crime novel not particularly inspiring and am confused as to how it made the list. It is not a bad book, but it’s also not a great book. Overall, I found it a pretty typical crime novel without any overarching themes to distinguish it from others of the genre. Unfortunately, this book may also suffer from high expectations set by its inclusion in the long list. ( )
  redwritinghood38 | Nov 6, 2018 |
Jack's mother is murdered. He is left alone with his siblings. Incredibly, he supports the family by becoming the consummate burglar. Also, he remains obsessed with finding his mother's killer. During one of his burglaries, he discovers an identical knife to the one the police believed was the murder weapon. The cops assigned to catch the "Goldilocks" burglar bungle the case repeatedly, but miraculously stumble onto the truth of Jack's mothers murder. All of these coincidences strain credulity.

The plot has all of the features of the crime genre, but little of the subtlety that one finds in the better versions, like French or Nesbø. Bauer's characters lack nuance and her UK setting seems mundane. To her credit, she exhibits considerable control in how she reveals the twists of her plot. Yet the murderer becomes obvious about halfway into the novel. What seems to be lacking is a clear motive. ( )
  ozzer | Oct 22, 2018 |
On a sweltering August day in 1998, Eileen Bright's car, which has broken down, is parked on the shoulder of a motorway in England. She leaves her vehicle to find help, and assigns her eleven-year old son, Jack, to stay behind and supervise his younger siblings, Joy and Merry. Eileen reassures them that her absence will be brief. However, when she does not reappear as expected, Jack takes Joy and Merry and sets out to find out what happened to their mother.

Three years pass, and Jack, now fourteen, is burdened with responsibilities; he makes questionable choices to boost his family's income. This troubled boy is determined to act like a man, but he is filled with rage and regret and is too immature to see the big picture. in addition, Jack tangles with Catherine While, a thirty-one year old expectant mother whose husband, Adam, is frequently away on business. Jack has reason to believe that Catherine can help resolve unanswered questions concerning Eileen Bright's fate.

We cannot help but pity Jack, Joy, Merry, and Catherine, who struggle to cope with unpleasant realities. Meanwhile, two detectives--DCI John Marvel, an unkempt, profane, and overbearing curmudgeon who believes that "sometimes you had to bend the rules to get your man," and DS Reynolds, a cop who prides himself on his "finely honed sense of right and wrong"ÛÓreluctantly join forces to capture a burglar and, later, a murderer. The plot machinations become increasingly far-fetched as the novel progresses, but Bauer, who is a gifted storyteller, entertains us with her dark humor, vivid descriptive writing, lively dialogue, and unique perspective on the oddities of human nature. ( )
  booklover915 | Oct 9, 2018 |
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a good children's story needs a method of immediately removing parents from the scene. SNAP isn't a children's book, but uses this convention to good effect as three children manage without adults in their life – or at least try to manage. Jack, the eldest, keeps up appearances by tending to the garden and sometimes putting food on the table, at least whenever he can rustle up some cash by fencing goods from houses he's grown skilled at burgling. He also uses those moments inside other people's houses as a chance to imagine what life should be like. He sleeps in beds, eats food from the fridge, breaks things out of anger, and comes to be known as the "Goldilocks burglar." What goes on inside Jack's house is a bit more challenging. The front garden may be spick and span, but the inside has filled up with dirt and mice and every available surface has been covered with towers of the newspapers his sister scours for news of their mother. It doesn't help that his eccentric younger sister has taken to peeking over the back fence to talk to the too-nosy new neighbor.

The opening of the book sets the stage. A woman whose car has broken down tells her children to stay put while she walks to the nearest roadside phone. After a long wait in a scorching-hot car, Jack decides they need to find her, but after a grueling hike carrying his smallest sibling, they find the phone dangling off the hook, and nobody who is willing to help them – until a policeman finally pulls up. Their pregnant mother has vanished right off the face of the earth, and after the police investigation has stuttered to a standstill, their distraught and incapable father makes a disappearing act of his own. That leaves Jack in charge, doing whatever it takes to keep the family together.

Meanwhile, several years later another pregnant woman hears a bump in the night. Her husband is away, and she anxiously confronts the darkened house. It's nothing, just nerves, she thinks – until she sees the knife left beside her bed and a birthday card altered to read "I could have killed you." She decides not to make a fuss about it, at which point the author weaves a spindly psychological suspension bridge that doesn't really manage to carry the reader over a gaping plot hole except by sheer will. The Mutt and Jeff pair of detectives meant to solve the burglaries end up investigating a murder are more or less comic relief, playing on genre cliches.

As a mystery, this book isn't entirely successful, but as a children's book – that is, a book about children and the world seen from their angle, if not written for children – it's a compelling read and narrated gracefully enough to get itself longlisted for the Booker Prize. Maybe next time the Booker judges will go for an elegantly written crime novel that does a bit better job of ticking the plot boxes. In the meantime, it's certainly a worthy addition to the avid reader's TBR pile.

Reposted with permission from Reviewing the Evidence.
  bfister | Sep 19, 2018 |
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Book description
Jack’s in charge, said his mother as she disappeared up the road to get help. I won’t be long. Now eleven-year-old Jack and his two sisters wait on the hard shoulder in their stifling, broken-down car, bickering and whining and playing I-Spy until she comes back.

But their mother doesn’t come back. She never comes back. And after that long, hot summer’s day, nothing will ever be the same again. Three years later, Jack is still in charge - of his sisters, of supporting them all, of making sure nobody knows they're alone in the house, and - quite suddenly - of finding out the truth about what happened to his mother. . . Meanwhile across town, a young woman called Catherine While wakes to find a knife beside her bed, and a note reading I could have killed you. The police are tracking a mysterious burglar they call Goldilocks, for his habit of sleeping in the beds of the houses he robs, but Catherine doesn’t see the point of involving the police.
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"From award-winning crime writer Belinda Bauer, "the true heir to the great Ruth Rendell" [Mail on Sunday (UK)], Snap is a gripping novel about a teenage boy's hunt for his mother's killer. Jack's in charge, said his mother as she disappeared up the road to get help. I won't be long. Now eleven-year-old Jack and his two sisters wait on the hard shoulder in their stifling, broken-down car, bickering and whining and playing I-Spy until she comes back. But their mother doesn't come back. She never comes back. And after that long, hot summer's day, nothing will ever be the same again. Three years later, Jack's fifteen now and still in charge ... alone in the house. Meanwhile across town, a young woman called Catherine While wakes to find a knife beside her bed, and a note reading I could of killed you. The police are tracking a mysterious burglar they call Goldilocks, for his habit of sleeping in the beds of the houses he robs, but Catherine doesn't see the point of involving the police. And Jack, very suddenly, may be on the verge of finding out who killed his mother. A twisty, masterfully written novel that will have readers on the edge of their seats, Snap is Belinda Bauer at the height of her powers"--… (more)

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