For some reason I didn’t get around to reading this book by Belinda Bauer despite being a big fan, and having bought a copy of Blacklands in 2010 I’ve read my way through her books pretty much as soon as they’ve been published. No matter, The Facts of Life and Death was well worth the wait, in fact, it is decidedly my favourite of Belinda Bauer’s entire work.
The book is told by the viewpoint of ten-year old Ruby Trick who lives in Limeburn, Devon where she lives with her Mummy who works at the posh hotel and her Daddy a lover of all things Cowboy. He no longer has a job since the industry he was trained for has dissolved. The summer that the killer came to the area was one of those wet, dank summers that we do so well in the UK. Occasionally the sun managed to make a half-hearted appearance but for the rest of the time, it was damp and dismal.
Limeburn is sandwiched between the forest on one side, Ruby is to go no further than the stile, and the sea on the other, the sea where Ruby’s father fishes for their dinner and occasionally to sell. The few children in the village stick together, they have to if they want any companions at all, because it is a way to the larger town and so Ruby spends time in the ‘haunted house’ with her friend Adam throwing sticks into the sea and the rest of her time living for her weekly copy of Pony & Rider and her Mars bar that take up the entirety of her pocket money which she takes back home to The Retreat.
It was owned by a family in London who had bought it and named it and then found it was too distant, too dreary, too damp to retreat to – even just once a summer – and had rented it out until they could sell at a profit.
Meanwhile a twisted man is taking young women off the streets and getting them to strip and call their mothers to say goodbye. The mothers then get to watch and listen as the life is snuffed out of their daughters. Absolutely horrific, need I say more?
The absolute beauty of this book is that although much of what is happening is seen through Ruby’s eyes, with a childhood that is recognisable to many I should imagine, with petty jealousies, nasty boys, priggish girls and a fair smattering of boredom, Ruby is also worried about her Daddy leaving. Daddy is so much more fun than Mummy who is boring but there are rows which Ruby tries to remove herself from:
Whenever the row started, it always ended up at the job. It got there without her.
Then there is school where Ruby’s problems are magnified, not the most attractive of children with red hair and a fondness for sweets, which Daddy often indulges, she has a teacher Miss Sharpe who tells them all to write a diary daily. As any self-respecting child would, this meant that Ruby spent one day a week filling in her entries in her ‘Dairy’ Seriously I could have been Ruby and I adored Miss Sharpe’s character:
A couple of the other teachers tittered nervously. Not Miss Sharpe. If Miss Sharpe ever caught herself tittering, she’d give herself a good smack.
So it is a story of childhood, a world interpreted without the context to fully understand, it is also funny which makes it a real joy to read… and scary – I don’t want to think about the terror of those women, particularly those caught later on, who knew all about the murderer, or their poor mothers. The juxtaposition of childhood innocence with depravity makes for an incredibly powerful story and the outstanding plotting, the steady pace where there is not one scene too many, nor a single word seemingly without importance.
An outstanding read which was truly exceptional. If you haven’t read any of Belinda Bauer’s books, all of which I highly recommend, The Facts of Life and Death is up there with my favourite crime novels of all time, because it is about so much more than just crime; it is a reflection of a type of household, a type of community, a type of school and a type of man – all of which could be just around the corner from you or me.
Belinda Bauer’s Books – NB these are all standalone books, so no need to read them in order