Crime Scene: BELINDA BAUER The Beautiful Dead. Reviewed by Derek Dryden
Bauer’s new novel keeps us guessing until the very end.
This is the fifth book by Belinda Bauer, the Gold Dagger award-winning author now resident in Wales. Unlike some crime writers who, once they’ve developed a successful character, stick with them forever, one of the great delights of Bauer’s work is that almost every novel brings a fresh set of players.
Our protagonist here is Eve Singer, the 29-year-old crime reporter for iWitness News, and when we first meet her, she’s busy throwing up her breakfast into a clean white toilet bowl. Toast and marmite, up it all comes, for Eve has what might be considered a fatal flaw for a crime correspondent – the sight of blood makes her sick. In many ways she’s a caricature of the typical TV reporter. Although she’s only 29 she looks and feels like she’s 40; she has an ulcer from the amount of stress in her life, partly because she has the doubled responsibility of juggling a pressured career and for caring for her father, who’s in the late stages of dementia. In the newsroom, her misogynistic boss, Ross Tonin, is always riding her for more graphic reporting, more blood, and threatening to replace her with someone younger, someone prettier, someone blonder. Her only pal at work is her cameraman, Joe, who, despite being several years her junior, actually has her best interests at heart.
Eve is hugging the toilet bowl as three weeks out from Christmas a killer has disembowelled Layla Martin. Layla worked for an ad agency and her only sin was to try to catch up with her work in the company’s deserted offices on a Saturday.
The killer takes his second victim in a cinema, during the afternoon session of the new Liam Neeson movie. A witness, the first paramedic on the scene, is one of Eve’s many sources and the exclusive interview he gives her restores Eve’s status in the newsroom.
But the killer is starting to fixate on Eve, watching her reportage on a continual loop, and so he sends her a little present – the movie he made as he murdered the cinema patron:
‘I think the killer filmed this,’ said Eve.
Joe frowned, ‘If he did, why would he send it to you?’
Eve shrugged, ‘Why does anyone send anything to a TV reporter?’
‘Because they want to see it on TV.’
‘Sick,’ muttered Joe.
‘What are we going to do with it?’ Eve said carefully.
She didn’t feel careful; she felt excited. This clip could secure her whole future. She knew that with an unerring instinct that made it a certainty. A cold-blooded killer had reached out to her. Had sent her a video of his still-warm victim.
Although Eve and Joe decide not to share the video with anyone, including their station management, Tobin’s continual pressuring of Eve for more sensational reporting soon leaves her with no choice but to reveal it, and of course it is shown on prime time news.
At this point in the book, the killer changes his focus completely to Eve, and sets out to stage a series of exhibitions exclusively for her. Each exhibition features a death and each death is more gruesome, more shocking than the one before. The police (needless to say) are baffled. Then as Eve seeks to identify him, the killer turns his murderous intentions onto her and her ailing father. The very satisfying denouement keeps us guessing until the very end. As the teaser on the book jacket says, He might kill her. She might let him.
I really love Belinda Bauer’s writing. Her plots are well considered and well drawn. Her characters, from the police involved in the investigation to Eve’s father Duncan Singer and her colleagues in the newsroom are all very believable. I don’t know where she finds her string of killers, but it’s a very scary place indeed.
Derek Dryden is the founder of Newtown’s iconic bookstore Better Read Than Dead. He is a travel blogger and a sometime bookseller with the Harry Hartog group.
Belinda Bauer The Beautiful Dead Bantam 2016 PB 352pp $32.99
To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.