Bauer, Belinda - 'Finders Keepers'
In the small villages of Exmoor (south-west England), children are going missing. The first disappearance is that of Jess Took, daughter of the Master of the Hunt. Soon, others follow. DI Reynolds and DS Rice are dispatched to investigate, setting up a temporary base at a local hotel and organising a hunt of the moors. As they can find no connection between the families involved in the incidents or any other clues, they spend most of the novel in a holding pattern.
Jonas Holly was the policeman responsible for Shipcott, a small village at the hub of this activity. He's on enforced leave of absence while his state of mind is being assessed by a spectacularly incompetent psychologist, who signs him up as fit for duty for reasons of her own, when he quite clearly is not. Nevertheless, things might have gone OK for Holly if the crimes that subsequently landed on his plate were the usual petty theft from the village shop or teenagers getting drunk on a Saturday night. The major kidnapping crime in which Holly becomes embroiled, however, is going to dangerously challenge his fragile mental state.
Stephen Lamb is now 17, in the sixth form at school and mainly interested in building a motorbike from its parts, as well as in girls, of course. He's very shy, so believes he has no chance of getting to know a lovely new girl in his class. Stephen also has a strong sense of responsibility for his family - his mother, gran and younger brother Davey. Davey is as irritating as a younger sibling can be, but turns out to be the pivotal connection between the parts of the plot.
The author tells a good story, drawing in the reader to Stephen's and Davey's concerns as they struggle with the typical micro-issues of growing up in relative poverty in a remote area. Stephen has his suspicions about the perpetrator of the crime (which readers of the author's previous book may well share), but finds it impossible to interest the police in his theory. Eventually, Davey, Stephen and Holly become involved in an event that pitches the book into a different ball-park.
One problem I had with this novel is that it is impossible that the same small village on Exmoor could be the site of so many murders and kidnaps (there have been two previous entries in this loose series, BLACKLANDS and DARK SIDE). Further, if you have read the earlier books, you'll know who Stephen suspects and why, so you might find this part of the plot rather slow. If you haven't read them, despite the summaries provided, you might find the characters hard to engage with fully, as quite a bit here depends on our knowledge of Stephen and Holly. Another problem is that there is no real detection in the book; for the first half we learn about various children that go missing, then the author abruptly decides to tell us who is responsible. Hence the second half of the book has more of a suspense theme than the first part, but the events described in it do not ring true to me (I won't go into details for fear of spoilers); nor do the kidnapper's motivation and actions seem credible.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel, but I hope that the author will either write about different characters altogether or introduce some new ones in her next book - which, if it involves crimes, surely should be set in a different location.
Maxine Clarke, England