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Author of the Month

Name: Belinda Bauer

First Novel:

Most Recent Book: Rubbernecker

'...like a surgical knife this novel gets right under your skin. '

Synopsis:
In a ward that looks after patients pulled in to the dangerous clutches of a coma for one reason or another, a patient who has partially woken from his coma sees what happens within the ward. One night he witnesses what he knows is a murder. But how can he tell anyone what he has seen? All he can do at the moment is grunt and make noises. His frustration grows as he begins to suspect that he may well be next in the killing spree.

Since the tragic accident that took his father, Patrick who has severe Asperger’s Syndrome has been trying to discover the secret to the ultimate question: where do people go when they die? On a mission to find the ‘door’ to Death, Patrick enrols to study anatomy at university in his bid to find out why his father was alive one moment and dead the next. What he could never have expected was that he would begin to discover clues that would lead him to a murder that would catapult him in his quest to find answers.

Without any finesse or social graces that would allow him with subtle guile to find clues from those around him who are possibly involved, Patrick storms in determined to find answers, realising too late that he has awoken a murderous streak in someone in close proximity.

Review:
‘Rubbernecker’ is such an unusual novel and yet by its weirdness I was captivated and intrigued from the very beginning. You would think that you would switch off with a main protagonist like Patrick who suffers from Asperger’s, a child in a man’s body without any recognition towards social etiquette. Patrick says what he wants without realising there could be consequences. All he understands is the words in his book and the fascination that dead people hold over him as he tries to unravel the puzzle of life and death.

However, with Bauer’s assured hand Patrick is enigmatic and it is a journey of discovery as you see Patrick begin to understand the world, and more importantly, himself. I wouldn’t say everything ends on a perfect note, but Patrick is more comfortable with himself by the end of the book. It is Bauer’s insistence that her characters are not mere ‘plot devices’ that means ‘Rubbernecker’ is populated with three dimensional people from all walks of life. One of my favourite of Bauer’s creations is Tracey Evans who could be classed as a ‘gold digger’, ‘a harlot’ who is only out for what she can get, but her plans come at a terrible price and you wonder if Tracey got her comeuppance or if she was as much a victim. It is these little conundrums of life that Bauer so richly describes and brings to the fore with sparse, yet precise prose that lift this book above the norm.

As with the veins of her cadavers, the plotline of ‘Rubbernecker’ sinews its way in the book and even at the end Bauer is still not adverse to delivering yet another shock that I for one certainly did not see coming, however it did fit in the final piece of the jigsaw to make sense of the whole picture. With humour that could be caustic (I loved her description of Patrick’s disappointment about the human brain) and sometimes touching but normally downright cynical on human nature, Bauer delivers a first rate novel that thrills you, warms you and like a surgical knife this novel gets right under your skin. Sublime.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) Why did you choose crime fiction as the basis for your novels?
I didn't. Crime fiction chose me! I simply wrote a book about a boy and his grandmother. It did have a serial killer in it, but all the crime had happened years before, so I had no idea it would be thought of as a crime novel! I'm so glad that it was, because it turns out almost ALL my ideas are for crime novels.
2) Your main protagonist in ‘Rubbernecker’ is Patrick who has Asperger’s. Why did you give him this condition?
Each of my first three books had very sensitive, empathetic heroes. I wanted to see if I could create a character who was really lacking in those qualities, and yet still get the readers to root for him. Patrick turned out to be perfect for the part, and as I wrote I felt as close to him as I have to any of my other major characters.
3) ‘Rubbernecker’ deals with coma patients. Is this a topic that interests you or was it simply conducive to the plot? Did you spend time on a ward like the one you describe in ‘Rubbernecker’?
Being in hospital always makes me aware of how vulnerable people are. We're sick and in bed - but we're in a strange place with a bunch of strangers beside us and caring for us. Our lives are in their hands. That sense of vulnerability was something I've wanted to explore for a long time. I didn't go onto a coma ward because I felt that would somehow be prurient, but I did a lot of research with people who have first-hand experience of relatives in and out of a coma and locked-in syndrome. It really made me look at it with new - quite disturbed - eyes.
4) Patrick is looking for the ‘door’ to death. Is this a topic you are fascinated by or do you believe it fascinates a lot of us?
Yes, I think that fascination with death is universal. After all, it's something that is going to happen to all of us and yet not one single person on the planet KNOWS what - if anything - goes on after we die. It's the greatest mystery of all and is completely insoluble. Most of us try to live in denial about it, but Patrick is not that kind of person. His logic in seeking a door between life and death is as sound as any other theory that I've ever heard.
5) In ‘Rubbernecker’ Patrick dissects a cadaver. Did you have to do a lot of research for this part of the book? Did you witness a post-mortem and if so, did you manage not to faint?
LOL! I was VERY worried about doing that research. I watched complete dissections online so that I knew the procedures and terminology, and I studied anatomy textbooks. But I knew that I really couldn't write ‘Rubbernecker’ without actually going into a dissection room because I needed to smell it and to touch the bodies. Luckily the staff at the Cardiff University dissection room were amazing, and gave me so much help that the experience was fascinating. I did have one minor wobble, but never came close to fainting!
6) ‘Blacklands’ was your first novel and won the CWA Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year. How did it feel to win this award with your first novel? Did it add any pressure on you it being your debut?
I felt a little guilty to have won the Gold Dagger when other writers had far more experience than I did, but I hope that my subsequent books have shown that ‘Blacklands’ was a worthy winner and not just a fluke! Winning was a double-edged sword because I had a dream start to my career, with big sales and lots of attention. But the pressure was definitely on, and writing ‘Darkside’ was a very miserable experience, because I was so conscious of the high expectations that people had for me.
7) You like to populate your novels with a number of bizarre characters. Are you drawn towards people who are not classed as ‘the norm’ and do you enjoy writing about them more than the other people in your books?
Those people ARE the norm! People are AMAZING and everybody has something that makes them unique. I can talk to anyone for ten minutes and discover something truly special about them. Sometimes they don't even know how interesting they are. All I do is to reveal that side of my characters because it makes them feel like real people, not just cardboard cut-outs I've made up to serve some crime-novel purpose. I want my characters to carry on with their lives after they've left my pages. I like to think the Shipcott milkman is still out there somewhere, leaving threatening notes for his customers…
8) Despite not being a nice person, I thought the character of Tracy Evans was subtly portrayed and yet gripping in her desires. What do you believe is more important when writing a novel: plot or characterisation?
Without character the plot is just a mathematical construct to get you from A to Z. People are what make the plot happen. Every single person in the book has their part to play in making the whole thing happen, and without Tracy's laziness and selfishness, ‘Rubbernecker’ could never have happened.
9) What are you planning for your next novel?
My next book is called ‘A Beginner's Guide To Gunslinging’ and is a very dark story of manipulation and murder.
10) What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
I've never read crime as such, but since starting to write it, I've realised that some of my favourite novels are effectively crime novels. Then include Harper Lee’s novel, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, which is a courtroom drama, Neal Stephenson’s ‘Cryptonomicon’, which is a stunning mystery stretching from WWII to the near-future, and Peter Benchley’s novel, ‘Jaws’, which is really just a book about a serial killer with an awful lot of teeth!