The opening chapter of ‘Snap’ by Belinda Bauer presents a chilling premise based on the unsolved murder of Marie Wilks. On a hot day in the summer of 1998, eleven-year-old Jack Bright is left in a broken-down car by the side of a motorway with his two younger sisters, Joy and Merry, while their pregnant mother, Eileen, goes in search of a telephone for help. However, she never returns and her body is eventually found stabbed to death.
Three years later and abandoned by their father who was unable to cope, Jack turns to burgling houses to provide for his sisters and escape being noticed by social services. On the other side of town, a young pregnant woman, Catherine While, discovers a knife next to her bed with a note that reads “I could have killed you” but she decides not to tell her husband about the break-in or report it to the police. Elsewhere, DS Reynolds who does everything by the book and DCI Marvel who takes a slightly more unorthodox approach towards detective work are investigating multiple burglaries and the identity of Eileen’s killer who still hasn’t been caught and are in a race against time to solve both mysteries.
Jack and his siblings are emotionally traumatised and there is a lot of focus on the impact of Eileen’s murder on the family left behind which is sensitively written. As with her fourth novel Rubbernecker, Bauer juggles three separate plot strands before later revealing how they are all connected. However, I think this was achieved more successfully in ‘Rubbernecker’ whereas in ‘Snap’, the identity of the killer becomes obvious fairly quickly with no real red herrings standing in the way.
‘Snap’ has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize but I think it is unlikely that it will progress to the shortlist. Looking beyond yet another debate about the place of genre fiction on a literary award longlist, I think the first half of ‘Snap’ is better than the second half – the intrigue is set up well (albeit at a relatively slow pace) but the plot relied on too many unlikely coincidences in order to tie all the different strands together. The tightrope between originality and credibility can be a difficult one to walk in crime fiction and sometimes Bauer stretches the latter too far. Although I haven’t read any of the other longlisted books yet, I also doubt that Bauer’s spare prose style would compare favorably to the likes of Sally Rooney or Michael Ondaatje’s latest novels if the reputation of their previous work is anything to go by.