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by Belinda Bauer
Bantam, January 2012
212 pages
14.99 GBP
ISBN: 0593066901

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Children are being stolen from cars by someone accusing the parents of neglect: 'You don't love her' reads the note left behind, or 'You don't love him'. DI Reynolds heads the investigation team, wary of the involvement of local policeman, Jonas Holly who is recovering from the loss of his young wife. Holly's therapist, not without her qualms, signs off on his treatment, freeing Jonas to return to work. Teenager Steven Lamb has his own reasons for doubting whether PC Holly should be back on the beat, and watches for evidence to support his suspicions. All the characters are drawn into the web of violence and rural isolation which sits at the heart of the story.

Bauer wrote a startling debut novel, BLACKLANDS, in which a younger Steven lured a serial killer into a game of cat and mouse across Exmoor. She followed up with DARKSIDE, which introduced Jonas Holly, an apparently straightforward character but with deep complexities that produced an ending considered risky by many readers. It's not essential to read the first two books before FINDERS KEEPERS, but I would recommend it. The characters of Steven and Jonas, central to this new story, require some investment and the first two books provide that, in abundance. Steven makes a great hero, likeable and flawed but essentially courageous and intelligent. Bauer devotes much of the first half of the book to his teenage interests, including a love story which is touching and believable.

The second half of the book switches pace, and format. Bauer reveals who is behind the kidnappings and, in doing so, removes the mystery that powered the first half of the story, replacing it with plenty of suspense as we try to guess the fate of the kidnapped children.

Steven's home life remains fraught with the difficulties Bauer described so powerfully in BLACKLANDS, but it is the relationship between Steven and Jonas that makes FINDERS KEEPERS memorable. Steven's suspicions, his fear and his anger, ultimately his reliance on Jonas for survival all this finds Bauer at her best, tying us to the fate of the characters as completely as possible. Like Steven, we're waiting for the 'real' Jonas to show himself. When he does, it's terrifying and exhilarating.

The final scene, despite being unequivocal, feels ambiguous. We saw the 'real' Jonas, but did Jonas? There was more mileage in the character, for my money, but perhaps Bauer is planning a clean sweep for her next novel, which is already at the editing stage. She's an author who can surprise as readers of the three, very different novels will attest so it will be good to see what she serves up next.

Sarah Hilary is an award-winning short story author, currently working on a debut crime novel.

Reviewed by Sarah Hilary, January 2012

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