My sense, from the brilliantly believable characterisations she creates, is that Belinda Bauer is too astute, too incisive, too able to read the dark recesses of a human mind for me to ever be entirely comfortable in her company. But I’m thrilled she uses her observation skills to such great effect in her writing.
The central characters in THE FACTS OF LIFE AND DEATH are 10-year old Ruby Trick and the isolated North Devon community in which she lives. Ruby is an only child whose parents are struggling financially due to her father’s inability to get a job. While her mother works all the hours she can get as a chef, Ruby and her father bond over their love of all things cowboy. John Trick is part of a local gunslingers club who have the imagination to view their soggy, English village as some version of the Wild West. When young girls in the area start being attacked they form a posse of sorts and Ruby begs to be allowed to join her father as he drives the district on the lookout for bad guys (and participating in the local pastime of offering lifts to whoever needs one).
The book starts off gently. Ruby is sweet and funny and her view of her world is engaging. Any revelations she makes, most notably in the diary she is required to keep for school, are not, as can happen in some stories, the result of unrealistic intelligence for someone of her age and education but more simply the product of the average 10 year-old’s naivety about repeating things she’s heard and seen. Though isolated and somewhat downtrodden the local villages seem to be full of people who look out for each other and where even the crimes are not the nastiest possible. The first attacks, though psychologically scarring, do not involve any physical injuries at all. But almost without the reader being aware the gentleness is replaced by something more darkly sinister…Ruby’s life becomes more complicated, the attacks turn deadly and even nature is at its most dangerous.
One of the things I admire about Bauer’s work is that she doesn’t only bring a central protagonist deftly and credibly alive. THE FACTS OF LIFE AND DEATH is littered with memorable depictions…the couple growing apart from each other and appearing to compete for their daughter’s affections; the unambitious young policeman who finds himself unhappily engaged and out of his depth investigatively; the grandmother with unknowingly hurtful remarks.
These days I am almost desperate to find novels which are not part of a series and are not overlong so I was probably predisposed to liking THE FACTS OF LIFE AND DEATH but it was not a given. Favoured authors do not always deliver. However on this occasion, with the added bonus of Colleen Prendergast’s terrific narration of the audio version of the book, Bauer has ticked all the boxes for me. The characters are sublime, the story engaging and there is much wry humour to balance out the dark subject matter. It’s a delight and highly recommended.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Colleen Prendergast
Publisher Random House Audio 
Length 9 hours 38 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone
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