Booker Longlist Review: Snap by Belinda Bauer

by Sunita

I really don’t understand what the Booker judges saw in this mystery to put it on the longlist. Other reviews point to the portrayal of Jack and his siblings, and I agree that is well done, but the other characters are not particularly believable, the mystery/thriller aspect doesn’t really make sense, and the novel lacks the sense of place that really good mysteries (at least the ones I consider really good) tend to have. The writing, which presumably is something all Booker nominees should feature at a very high level, is competent but not much more than that. We’re not talking Reginald Hill Snap by Belinda Bauer coverhere.

There are two plots that are brought together by the main character, Jack. We meet Jack and his siblings when their mother vanishes while seeking help for an automobile breakdown. Days later her body is found, and her husband, who is overcome with grief, abandons the children. Jack manages to keep them going by ensuring that the outside of the house is well kept (the inside is a tip), and he turns to burglary to provide them with food and the money to survive. This goes on for three years.

At the three-year mark we’re introduced to Catherine While, a heavily pregnant woman who is frightened by a prowler in her house. He leaves a knife and a note, warning her of danger (from him or someone else is ambiguous). She decides not to tell anyone because she doesn’t think they’ll believe her and will blame her for leaving the window open and allowing the stranger to get in.

The burglaries draw the attention of the local police, and when Jack is apprehended they reopen his mother’s unsolved murder (for reasons which are not particularly convincing). The police are not terribly interesting and quite stereotypical, there are a lot of coincidences which bring about plot developments, and the murderer’s motive isn’t well explained. The ending spirals completely out of control, in fact the last quarter of the book is pretty unbelievable.

The writing veers between overwritten in the aspirational-literary vein and bog standard mystery (especially in the detective/police sections).

It was a page-turner in parts, but it never really hung together, and when I was finished I was struck by the flaws more than the strengths. Bauer’s previous novels have won mystery prizes, so clearly she is respected by readers and peers. I read a lot more mysteries of the police procedural vein than I do thrillers, and this falls between the two, without achieving the heights of either.

I welcome the addition of novels marketed as genre fiction to the Booker, but this is not a good representative.

3 stars at Goodreads, and that’s being generous.