‘Snap’ by Belinda Bauer

Where can you buy good books at the moment? Almost no-where is available for the impulse purchase. So the box of books at our local post-office is very welcome. Come and browse, take what you want and leave a donation. There is something about the handling of actual books that also makes it easier to find reading outside one’s usual range, and ‘Snap’ is the first book I have read by Belinda Bauer.

Snap‘ starts out as standard thriller fare: Three children waiting in a car on a motorway hard shoulder, pregnant mother having gone to phone for help. She never comes back. An interesting set-up – and every driver’s nightmare – easily gets even a fairly seasoned reader like me hooked. The children grow up fast, and after their dad also walks out, basically spend the next three years fending for themselves, at home and guarded with surprising maturity by the eldest son, Jack. He takes to a life of petty crime, but has his own standards: He never burgles a house if anyone is at home, and he has no taste for junk food. The house is a mess, but the garden is always kept immaculate, since Jack knows that a tidy lawn will shield his household from closer scrutiny. Clever boy.

The other side of the narrative, featuring another pregnant woman and her husband, at first proceeds along fairly predictable lines, but gradually it dawns on this reader, that this story in two parts is part parable, part fable, unfolding with a gentle inevitability that one almost never finds in standard, gruesome thriller fare: Jack is helped by another petty crim whose specialism is knives and who has a baby son; Jack’s new neighbour is the mother of one of the investigating policemen; the homeless man whom Jack passes most days on his rounds, is his father, who cracked up after his wife was killed and went AWOL.

I’d guess that it’s intended to be humorous, which tells me that there is a larger message at play here: that “ordinary” life is full of quirks, we may unexpectedly run out of time any time, so it’s a good idea to be kind to each other.

I’m not entirely convinced that the two – thriller and parable – threads marry very well: Standard thriller fare is blood and guts, and we never actually know for sure what happened to Jack’s mother: there are no descriptively frightening passages that are otherwise such a gift to a thriller writer. The remainder of the book is liberally strewn with the kind of gentle improbabilities that tell me, before I’m very far into the story, that all will be well. And it’s this I ultimately warm to, and through which I notice the humour and enjoy the story and the writing.

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