On a broiling summer’s day in 1998, eleven-year-old Jack Bright and his two sisters sit in a broken-down car beside a busy road waiting for their mother who went to get help. No-one stops. No-one notices. No-one comes back.
Jump forward three years and a trio of police officers are hunting the “Goldilocks burglar” who breaks into homes and sleeps in the beds. Is he the same criminal who has left a knife and a threatening letter beside a pregnant woman’s bed?
And how does a burglar who mainly steals healthy food - "When the opportunity arose, he stole organic” - tie in with a cold case of a murdered woman from 1998?
Belinda Bauer’s razor-sharp wit and black humour always freshens my reading palate. Her plotlines and characters are decidedly quirky – even bizarre. In SNAP, a Dickensian vision of three children surviving on the fringes of modern society is touching, at times very funny, and distinctly weird. Minor characters such as "Smooth Louis Bridge", a criminal who obsessively removes his own hair, reveal the extent of her freaky imagination. But an eye for detail brings all this eccentricity back to real life.
Jack Bright’s eyes were narrow as a smoker’s and pale grey, as if all the colour had been cried out of them.
Detective Chief Inspector Marvel wasn’t one for knick-knacks but he did have an ashtray in the shape of lungs.
Belinda Bauer switches perspectives between characters without ever making it feel contrived. She somehow slides from one vivid and fleshed-out internal world to the next, puppet master-style. I love the smoothness and authority of her writing. And the profound characterisation, such as here, when the unveiled burglar reflects on his bad behaviour:
He always knew it wasn’t right, but his anger made it feel fair.
I’m a big fan of Belinda Bauer, as you might tell, although SNAP is an unusually light-hearted crime novel. I love gallows humour as much as the next swinger, but on reflection I didn’t feel much fear related to the actual killer who gets a bit lost in a crowd of cranks and crazies (the police as much as anyone else). It doesn’t matter to me, though – this book is dark, funny and heartfelt - and heroic Jack Bright and his sister's tortoise will live long in my mind.