Reviews > Published on August 4th, 2015

Bookshots: 'Rubbernecker' by Belinda Bauer

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review



Who wrote it?

[This is] tabloid delivered without the moralizing or the sentimentality. And with the weirdness dial turned all the way up to eleven.

Belinda Bauer, British crime writer – more info at her website. Rubbernecker has already won the coveted Theakstons Old Peculier crime novel in the UK and is now getting its US release.

Plot in a Box:

Anatomy student Patrick begins his first dissection and discovers that his cadaver probably did not die from natural causes.

Invent a new title for this book:

Organ Donation for Dummies

Read this if you liked:

Anything by Val McDermid, Ian Rankin or Denise Mina.

Meet the book’s lead:

Patrick Fort, a young man with Asperger Syndrome who has recently embarked on a course in anatomy.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

Nicholas Hoult, whose turn as Nux in Mad Max Fury Road showed us that he can play weird like a boss.

Fun Fact: Hoult has also taken the lead in the film version of Kill Your Friends by John Niven, a book which is just as nasty as American Psycho but set in the UK during the era of Britpop. A must-see.

Setting: would you want to live there?

Rubbernecker takes place in South Wales, specifically Cardiff and the Brecon Beacons. Wales is wet, windy, and people there celebrate their National Day by dressing up as daffodils.

I’ll give it a miss.

What was your favorite sentence?

At least chicken meant they could have trifle for afters without Patrick getting all alphabetical on her.

The Verdict: 

I write crime, but really I just write people says Belinda Bauer on her website, and in Rubbernecker she gives us a fine range of characters to enjoy spending time with: Patrick, the death obsessed 18 year old who has graduated from bringing home dead birds to cutting up dead humans; Sarah, his mother, driven to the edge of desperation by her strange son; Tracy Evans, the coma-ward nurse with hidden shallows; Samuel Galen, one of her charges and witness to a murder. Bauer writes splendidly weird people, the kind you’d pay good money to avoid in person, but love to encounter in the safety of fiction, and knits them together into a series of events which are also weird, but plausible enough that you can just about imagine them happening in real life. If real life involved keeping someone’s head in a fridge.

Bauer’s world might look reassuringly British suburban from the outside – people have sheds and eat trifle for afters – but it’s full of dark nooks and crannies. In Rubbernecker, patients in a coma ward get knocked off one by one, unable to communicate the danger to the staff; medical students play stupid jokes with the bodies they’re supposed to treat with respect; and that harmless-looking garden shed contains a devastating secret (not the severed head – that’s in the fridge, remember). The veneer of normality makes the dark bits all the darker. The subplot concerning Tracy, the nurse who’s supposed to be looking after Galen, but actually spends most of her time flirting with a male visitor, drifts from Coronation Street to Grimm’s fairy tale with such casual ease that the denouement feels like a gut punch.

Bauer got the idea for her first book Blacklands from a real life crime, specifically the Moors Murders, and as with much crime fiction, you could say that you wouldn’t be surprised to see her stories screaming at you from a headline in a stand by the checkout. But if this is tabloid fodder dressed up as fiction, it’s tabloid delivered without the moralizing or the sentimentality. And with the weirdness dial turned all the way up to eleven.

About the author

Cath Murphy is Review Editor at and cohost of the Unprintable podcast. Together with the fabulous Eve Harvey she also talks about slightly naughty stuff at the Domestic Hell blog and podcast.

Three words to describe Cath: mature, irresponsible, contradictory, unreliable...oh...that's four.

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