Tuesday, April 18, 2017


THE BEAUTIFUL DEAD by Belinda Bauer (Atlantic, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

TV crime reporter Eve Singer’s career is flagging, but that starts to change when she covers a spate of bizarre murders—each one committed in public and advertised like an art exhibition. When the killer contacts Eve about her coverage of his crimes, she is suddenly on the inside of the biggest murder investigation of the decade. But as the killer becomes increasingly obsessed with her, Eve realizes there’s a thin line between inside information and becoming an accomplice to murder—possibly her own.

This is an elegantly written chiller from one of Britain's best crime writers. Several years ago I was part of a team of reviewers for a leading magazine that selected Bauer's impressive debut, BLACKLANDS as one of the very best novels - of any kind - for that year, and Bauer has gone from strength to strength since.

There's just something about her writing that elevates it above the many British crime novels that fall into the 'good to very good' category. Bauer's prose is deceptively simple, yet packed with power. Her characterisations draw us deeply into her tales, strapping us down for a creepy ride. There's something of a literary quality to her work, even when it's drenched in serial killers and other genre tropes. This is slickly written crime fiction that is much more than slickly written crime fiction.

Eve Singer makes her living from death. She's the eyes and ears of a voracious public, eager to devour the details of murders and horrific ends that befall their fellow citizens. Eve treads a fine line looking to out-scoop her competition in order feed the monster with the juiciest, gory details that will see ratings, and therefore her own value in the business, soar. But how complicit is she in turning tragedies into something even worse for those living with the after-effects of crime and murder?

It's a question that comes into stark relief when Eve is contacted by a serial killer with an artistic bent. Someone who thinks they are putting on a show for the public. Just like Eve does.

How will Eve, who is juggling plenty of pressure at work and home (caring for her aging and addled father), navigate her way through this dangerous game? Can she benefit her career without putting the investigation in jeopardy, and the lives of herself and those she loves in grave danger?

Without losing her own humanity along the way?

THE BEAUTIFUL DEAD is a cracking good read that flows along beautifully while providing plenty of substance amongst the style. Eve is a character who could be dislikable, given her profession and some of her attitudes, but Bauer elicits plenty of empathy, and Eve is someone we want to ride along with as the story unfolds. The other characters, from Eve's cameraman and conscience Joe, to her ratings-obsessed boss, her younger rival, the police, her father, and others, are all fleshed out and are never one-note characters. They're full chords, and together, a symphony.

Another top read from one of Britain's top crime writers.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 180 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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