Warning this review contains spoilers
Set on Exmoor Blacklands is a dark tale of communication between 12-year-old Steven and Arnold Avery, a serial killer of children, who murdered Steven’s 11 year-old Uncle Billy 18 years earlier. Whilst a number of bodies were found and formed part of his conviction Avery never revealed where he buried Billy Peters.
Steven lives with his younger brother Davey, mum Lettie and his grandmother who since the day Billy went missing has been unable to deal with his murder and spends her time standing at the front window waiting for him to return. In the hope of bringing happiness to his family Steven embarks on a task to find Billy’s body by systematically searching Exmoor. When this slow and tiring process takes its toll he decides to write to Avery to ask him for information.
Blacklands was recommended to me by my uncle, it is rare for him to do such a thing and so I was intrigued to find out what the book had to offer.
If I’m honest I started this review soon after finishing the book but couldn’t quite get my thoughts in order. Having spent some time thinking about it I think it’s partly because I just found the book a little bland. The issues that are being dealt with are dark and there are moments in the book where the story should be quite disturbing: references to the violation of children by Avery before he murders them, details of gang rapes and beatings he subsequently receives in prison, the excitement and gratification Avery gets from remembering his crimes, from his communication with Steven and from Exmoor itself. And yet, I just didn’t feel anything when reading it. If anything I found that they sat uncomfortably alongside the rest of the book. It felt like they’d been written precisely to shock and appal but that the macabre couldn’t be sustained.
I also struggled if honest with the plot development and in particular the ease at which Avery is able to escape from prison and make his way back to the small town on the edge of Exmoor. Whilst some reviews I’ve read seem prepared to forgive this for the greater value of the story I can’t. It just seemed ridiculous and I lost what little connection I had with the book.
On reading the first few pages of Blackland I saw such potential for a psychological thriller, something that would challenge my comfort levels and have me sitting on the edge of my seat. Instead I felt like I was reading a fairy tale, it gets a little scary for a moment but you always know good will conquer all. A disappointing read and not an author I’ll be trying again.