A pregnant mother walks up a British highway to phone for help, leaving her three children in the broken down car; when the children follow her trail later they find a phone receiver dangling from the hook but their mother has disappeared. With this opening Belinda Bauer’s SNAP slowly unravels into a compelling murder mystery with a thrilling twist.
As the eldest, eleven year old Jack is in charge of his two younger sisters; their father is too devastated to cope. When their father does not return one day from his run to the market to get milk, Jack turns to burglary to sustain the household and keep his younger siblings from being discovered and sent to foster homes. Five year old Merry mows the front lawn to keep up appearances, while Joy hoards newspapers, clipping articles about her murdered mother.
Their lives are brave but pathetic. Known as the Goldilocks burglar because he naps in the rooms of children, Jack looks for books on vampires he can steal for Joy to read. He delivers his stolen goods to the neighborhood fence, Louis, another unlikely criminal who proudly pushes his baby son around in a stroller. With Louis’ connections, Jack can target only empty homes where the owners have gone on extended vacations, but one day he enters a house where he finds not only a pregnant woman in her bed but also the knife he somehow knows killed his mother.
Bauer cleverly weaves her characters together, introducing each in a different context unlikely to arouse the reader’s suspicion, until they overlap. Her red herrings become real clues to the murderer’s identity and motive, as Jack and police detectives Marvel and Reynolds make missteps as they close in on the suspect. The subplots overlap and unravel quickly into a compelling tale filled with survival, manipulation, violence, and murder.
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, SNAP has an unconventional but satisfying ending, and Jack is now one of my favorite fictional characters. With so many possibilities for discussion, I considered SNAP as a candidate for book club lists, but after some thought, I decided I would rather keep my own images of Jack, Marvel, and the Whiles in my head, without dissecting them. Read it and let me know what you think..