Belinda Bauer has earned a reputation as a distinctive and masterful crime writer. A reputation that, on the strength of this, her latest novel, seems richly deserved. My blurred vision and fuzzy brain can certainly vouch for The Shut Eye‘s sheer readability: I was awake until 3am, frantically turning the pages and desperate to find out how this gripping mystery would be resolved.
A young woman named Anna Buck first crosses paths with DCI John Marvel on Valentine’s night 2000. Little do they know that their lives will soon entwine again in the most remarkable of circumstances.
Anna’s toddler son, Daniel, went missing on Bonfire Night. Four months on, there is still no trace of him. The only sign that he was ever here at all are the five footprints he left in the cement at the garage where his father works. Blaming her husband James for their son’s disappearance, Anna has withdrawn from the world and become obsessed with tending to her son’s footprints.
DCI Marvel has an obsession of his own – one of the few cases he has been unable to solve: the disappearance of 12-year-old Edie Evans. Desperation drives the usually cyncial Marvel to consult a psychic, Richard Latham. But Marvel soons dismisses Latham as a charlatan.
Desperation also drives Anna to seek help from Latham and the cases of the two missing children become entwined in the strangest and most compelling ways. Is Latham a charlatan as Marvel has long suspected? Or is he a Shut Eye – the genuine article?
This is plot-driven fiction at its finest. The novel moves at a breakneck speed and there are numerous twists and turns, each one no less than jaw dropping.
But there is more to The Shut Eye than page-turning thrills. Bauer’s skill as a writer enables her to create an atmosphere of almost unbearable tension and strangeness. She also breathes life into her characters: they are not merely there to serve the plot. Edie’s plight is heartbreakingly depicted, for instance. And Anna and Marvel in particular are fully-rounded characters who develop in often surprising ways throughout the novel. Alongside the compulsive narrative, there are meditations on truth, acceptance and belief: what would we be prepared to believe if the alternative was too awful to contemplate? Is denial always a bad thing? This novel offers plenty to think about. Above all, though, it is a consummate thriller. A word of warning, though: don’t pick this one up unless you can spare a few hours … It isn’t easy to set aside!