Bantam Press | 2016 | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book
Eve Singer is the face of crime on TV’s iWitness News. Working closely with her cameraman Joe, Eve’s job is to chase crime, to capture it on film before any other news stations, to speak to the camera, to find the human story of pain, and bring the horror of crimes and accidents into homes. And all this while desperately trying not to throw up in the corner with the awfulness of what she has to see and report on to keep her job. Her boss has another reporter in the wings, a younger, blonder model ready to step in front of the camera and steal Eve’s job. Eve needs bigger and bigger stories. Luckily for her, there’s a serial killer stalking the streets of London who’d like very much to give Eve that story. She’s caught his eye.
The killer craves an audience. He needs to spread death. He has to claim lives and he feels nothing but gratitude to the corpses he leaves behind for their last, bloody gift. He wants his deadly talent to be appreciated. Eve, he’s sure, will do that. He just needs to impress her first.
The first chapter of The Beautiful Dead is one of the most bloodcurdling and utterly gripping opening chapters that I’ve ever read in crime fiction. I couldn’t have put it down after those few pages if I’d wanted to and that was the last thing on my mind. This is a book I read late into the night, finishing it the next day. If you’re after a compelling, urgent pageturner then this is it.
That opening chapter also captures the style and skill of Belinda Bauer. Something absolutely horrendous is being described but the tone is pitilessly sharp, witty and self-aware. It goes straight to the heart of the matter, turning the world of murder and serial killers into a reality. And the shocks follow, one after another, as people meet their destiny at the merciless hands of this murderer. This does mean that you’ll find blood and gore within these pages but, even though I’m such a squeamish reader, I didn’t have to look away. I was too gripped.
Hand in hand with the crime side of things is the agonising story of Eve’s relationship with her much loved father, now stricken with dementia. We spend much of the novel inside Eve’s head and, like most of us, it is full of conflicting and difficult anxieties and cares. And now, to add to the guilt and the worry, there comes a new emotion for Eve to deal with – fear.
A great deal of praise has surrounded The Beautiful Dead since its publication earlier this month. Not a word of it is undeserved. With no doubt at all it will be among my top crime thrillers of 2016. I’m ashamed to admit that this is the first novel by Belinda Bauer I’ve read. It will be the first of many.