As I’ve completely given up reading book blurbs (which either reveal too much of the plot or appear to have nothing whatsoever to do with the book to which they relate) and hadn’t seen any reviews of this book before noticing it on sale in audio format I dove into Belinda Bauer’s THE SHUT EYE without knowing anything about it. Probably just as well because even though she is one of my favourite crime writers I’m not a fan of what I call ‘woo woo’ elements (ghosts, psychics, conversing with the dead and so on) and this book is replete with them. However by the time I realised that I was engaged enough to keep reading because Bauer’s usual clever writing and thoughtful character development are on display. In the end enjoyed the book in spite of its otherworldly sensibility*.
One of the things Bauer does very well is incorporate multiple perspectives in her stories. For me this has a dual function of enabling me to get to know several well developed characters in each book as well as allowing her trademark non-linear stories to develop naturally. Although there is always an assumption that disparate threads will link up I can never predict just how that will happen and THE SHUT EYE offers no exception to that rule. I did not see its resolution coming though, in hindsight, it did all fit together. As ever.
One of the core characters is Anna Buck whose toddler son Daniel disappeared 4 months earlier. She is bereft and sliding – galloping almost – into madness due to her inability to accept this loss. Taken out of context her individual actions – be it cleaning the tiny footprints Daniel made in drying cement outside their house or contemplating suicide or replacing her lost child – seem crazed but in the context of a suddenly childless mother it all makes a kind of sense. Anna is easy to empathise with though at times hard to read about because she is so deeply sad.
It is more difficult to find DCI John Marvel sympathetic. He is a prickly, judgmental loner who thinks quite a lot of himself. But he is a good detective, even though his primary motivation is loving to win – he views his job as a never ending game of cops versus villains – rather than any great desire to do good in the world. For the year preceding this tale he has been obsessed with Edie Evans, a teenage girl who disappeared without trace one day. He is almost as desperate to find Edie as her parents are. Desperate enough even to contemplate using a psychic! And for all his faults, or perhaps because of them, Marvel is someone readers can relate to (well at least this curmudgeon-in-training can). Marvel has appeared in another of Bauer’s books, 2011’s DARKSIDE, and I remember liking him in a similar way even then. My sense is that this book is actually set earlier than that one but I’m relying on ageing memory here and it doesn’t really matter, the books do not have to be read in order.
And the ‘woo woo’? Initially this element is provided by Richard Latham. Leader of a kind of church and self-professed psychic, though he’s recently given up looking for missing people. DCI Marvel thinks him a con-artist but his boss’ wife – who has also experienced a loss – and Anna Buck want to believe. Who wouldn’t when they’ve suffered a loss that no one else can help with? But then it seems that Latham isn’t the only one who receives messages from the great beyond. Or is it just a different kind of madness?
You’ll have to read the book yourself if you want to know the answer to that question. And I really think you should. It might not be my absolute favourite of Bauer’s tales (I somewhat begrudgingly forgave the ‘woo woo’) but it is still a cut above most crime fiction. Bauer is tener and caring with both her readers and her characters but doesn’t fall into the trap of cloying sentimentality so her characters and their stories pack a genuine emotional punch. Even the relatively minor characters – like Anna’s husband James who has to live with the fact he left the door open the day his son went missing and the young Hmong man who works at the same garage as James but is perpetually afraid due to his immigration status – will stay with you long after the book is finished. If you are an audio book fan then I highly recommend the narration by Andrew Wincott. He’s superb.
*Authors of paranormal anything who keep pestering me via the contact form here please do not take this as a sign that I’m now game for your version of the spirit world. I’m not. Really and truly. I don’t care that you believe whatever you believe but I do not. I’m prepared to forgive Bauer because she has written a swag of books I’ve truly loved that didn’t have a single ghostly presence but this does not herald any overall change in my reading preferences.
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Narrator Andrew Wincott
Publisher Random House Audio 
Length 9 hours 2 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone