Advanced Reader Copy received from the publisher (Bantam) via NetGalley
Release Date: 12th March 2015
For me, The Shut Eye was everything a good crime novel should be, and a little bit more. It’s the first novel by Belinda Bauer that I’ve read but after reading this I’m eager to start making my way through this award-winning crime writer’s previous books.
Five-year-old Daniel Buck is missing. He’s been missing since bonfire night last year when his father, James, popped out to buy some fireworks and left the door open. His mother, Anna, is consumed by grief and struggles to forgive her husband for his small mistake which led to devastating consequences. She doesn’t work, but spends most days obsessively cleaning the house and the five footprints Daniel left in the cement outside the local garage where James works.
“Anna Buck was crazy. Anyone could see. Every morning she sat in the street. Not against the wall like a homeless person, but right in the way, where commuters had to split around her with their phones and iPods plugged into their ears”
Elsewhere, we are introduced to misanthropic detective, John Marvel. Marvel is obsessed with his job and works to further his career by exploiting other people’s flaws.
“It was his unshakeable view that everyone had a flaw in their make-up that allowed leverage to be exerted, and he liked to think that he had a knack of identifying those weaknesses…that would give him the upper hand in any relationship.”
It’s not the nicest characteristic, but I couldn’t help but enjoy Marvel and his cynical outlook on those around him. Plus, he has his own flaw. The cold case of Edie Evans, a twelve-year-old girl who went missing some years before, which still haunts him.
The writer gives us two seemingly unconnected missing children in Daniel and Edie, and two very different people in Anna and Marvel. But something links them all, and she weaves a gripping, tense tale around them.
Enter the story’s namesake, the ‘shut eye’ – Richard Latham. I hadn’t heard of the phrase shut eye before, but apparently it’s a term used for those who really ‘have the gift’. Richard Latham is a psychic medium, who claims to help people speak to the dead. He’s also an integral link between the two cases. Years before, Marvel and the police force hired him to consult on the Edie Evans case. Marvel was sceptical about the use of a psychic in the first place, and when Latham didn’t provide any answers, it only served to fuel Marvel’s disillusionment with clairvoyants. Meanwhile, Anna, desperate for some sort of relief, decides to bite the bullet and visit the psychic after a flyer arrives through her door.
“That was why magic flourished down the centuries, just as religion did – because they both brought hope.”
Bauer does a fantastic job of breathing life into her characters. The story flits between various viewpoints, making me empathise with all of them, but trust none. John Marvel was my favourite – he is flawed but realistic and entertaining. The main suspect constantly shifted as the story progressed, leaving me more and gripped as the story went on.
The added element of the psychic was an interesting touch, and took this a little beyond standard crime fiction. As well as questioning who the kidnapper could be, the reader is also in the dark as to whether the element of supernatural could be real, or whether some of the characters are slowly slipping into insanity. It’s compulsive reading trying to find answers to these questions, and this has to be one of the best crime novels I’ve read in quite a while.