The novel starts strongly with a sensory visual depiction of three children who’ve been left in a car on the hard shoulder of the southbound M5 while their mother goes in search of an emergency phone.
It has been an hour since Jack (11), Joy (9) and Merry (2) watched their mother disappear up the road. You can feel the rising heat in the car, the threatening thunder of the lorries flying past and the mixture of fear and responsibility coursing through Jack, as he takes the initiative to gather everyone up and go in search of her.
Only they never find their mother.
Three years later Jack has complete responsibility for running the family home, as their father has walked out and no one has bothered to check in on them since the case was closed.
This novel isn’t about what happened to the children’s mother, it’s about the criminal level of neglect the children are subjected to as numerous adults fail them.
Neglect that drives Jack to act out of desperation because he does not want what remains of his family to be split up by social services.
There are two other strands within the story, the first features a heavily pregnant woman called Catherine who doesn’t respond to an intruder in her home in the expected way, and the second features a burglar known as Goldilocks, due to the criminal’s penchant for trying out the beds in any home they rob.
Detective Chief Inspector John Marvel has been shunted down to Somerset due the unfortunate death of a suspect fleeing custody. He’s not happy about the changes occurring within the force or that his first task is to catch Goldilocks, he’d prefer to be catching a murderer. DC Reynolds is not bonding well with his new DCI, he lacks emotional intelligence and is not adverse to breaching his principles when the occasion calls for it.
Bauer injects quite a bit of comedy into these scenes but the skill for vivid descriptive writing, which is on display when she writes about the children, disappears here. It may be that the clichéd elements that pull the three story strands together are designed to highlight that difference but that does mean the novel shifts into straightforward storytelling.
The strength of the writing lies in how Bauer handles the way each child deals with the evident trauma within their home environment, which is perceptive and incredibly moving at times. It was the combination of knowledge, innocence and rising awareness within Jack as he finds solutions to his dilemma that kept me reading.
In a recent interview in the Guardian, Bauer says that crime writing has allowed her to write about any topic and she displays that skill in Snap. She is absolutely right when she says that many authors are doing great work within the crime writing field.
Snap has been long listed for The Man Booker Prize, which is awarded to the best original novel, written in the English language, and published in the UK.
Is Snap the best original novel on the long list? I have seven of the books on the Booker Long List so far, I’m reading my third book from the list and my instinct says no.
That said it is good to see a crime writing novel on the Booker List and other people may have a different opinion.
Snap by Belinda Bauer is published by Bantam Press.