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“Surprise, of course, is the most potent aspect of suspense. And Belinda Bauer knows exactly how to manipulate that element, right until the very end . . . She’s shown, not just how to keep surprise bubbling explosively away, but to do it with extraordinary dexterity, maturity and feeling . . . Brilliant.” Daily Mirror (UK)
Finders Keepers is a spine-tingling, edge-of-your-seat thriller about an alarming spree of kidnappings in the southwest of England. The eight-year-old boy had vanished from the car andas if by slick, sick magichad been replaced by a note on the steering wheel: “You don’t love him.” At the height of summer a dark shadow falls across Exmoor, as children begin to disappear, with each disappearance marked only by a terse, accusatory note. There are no explanations, no ransom demands, and no hope. Policeman Jonas Holly (a character returning from Bauer’s first two novels) faces a precarious journey into the warped mind of the kidnapper if he’s to stand any chance of catching him. Butstill reeling from a personal tragedyis Jonas really up to the task? There are some who would say that, when it comes to being the first line of defense, Jonas Holly may be the last man to trust.
“The British countryside has never appeared so alien or so macabre.” Sunday Times (UK)
“A remarkable achievement . . . The story rushes along on a tide of suspense.” Independent (UK)
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Belinda Bauer is the author of seven award-winning novels that have been translated into twenty-one languages. The Beautiful Dead is her fifth novel to be published in North America. She won the Crime Writers’ Association’s Gold Dagger Award for Crime Novel of the Year for Blacklands , the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award for Rubbernecker , and the CWA Dagger in the Library Award for outstanding body of work. She lives in Wales.
Read an Excerpt
It was late in the season to go hunting. Although Jess Took wasn't hunting really, just watching.
If you could call it even that.
Jess was thirteen, and over the past year 'going hunting' had become a euphemism for sitting in her father's horsebox, deafened by hip-hop and blinded by the mist that formed quickly inside the windows in the early chill of a spring morning.
Although it was May, Exmoor had been prettied overnight by a sheen of sparkling frost that made it look gift-wrapped and Christmassy. The rising sun washed the hills with gold, making glittering gems of the dew. Tourists came from all over the world to see such sights. Sights like the one Jess Took was currently ignoring in favour of the sensory underload of opaque glass, an alien beat, and the faint smell of horse shit that she'd sucked into her wet lungs with her very first breath, and which none of her family had ever tried to clear from their nostrils.
John Took was the Master of the Midmoor Hunt. Joint Master, Jess was fond of reminding him. Since the divorce, Jess only spent the weekends with her father, and it had given her the distance to develop a critical eye and the almost uncanny ability to hit him where it hurt. In return for his having an affair and leaving her mother, Jess had stopped riding to hounds with him. She missed it but was determined to make him suffer.
In return, John Took refused to allow her to stay home alone on the Saturday mornings when he was scheduled to hunt, and instead loaded Blue Boy and then Jess into the box with equal brusqueness, then took the horse out and left her there on whatever gravel pull-off or grass verge they chose to park on that day. He always made some lumpy sandwiches for her, and — to teach him a lesson — she never ate them.
Now, as she turned the key so she could direct some heat on to her feet, Jess squinted against the new sunshine diffused through the misted windscreen. She was dimly aware that somewhere beyond her senses, her father would be shouting and bossing people about in that way she hated; pulling too sharply on Blue Boy's mouth in his bid for the spectacular turns and stops that he thought made him a better rider.
She sighed. Sometimes she felt like giving up their battle of wills. She was beginning to suspect that it was hurting her more than it hurt him, and it certainly required more effort than she really wanted to expend on anything apart from texting her friends and craving Ugg boots.
She wondered whether 6.45am was too early to text Alison and tell her what a shit life she was having.
The flat white glass of the passenger window was filled with the darkness of sudden approach, and the door yanked open. Jess flinched and opened her mouth, prepared to be rude to her father for scaring her. Then left it gaping in shock as a faceless man reached in, wrapped his arms around her — and simply dragged her out of the cab.
It all happened so fast.
Jess felt her feet smack the gravel and the cold hit the small of her back as her sweatshirt bunched up. She squirmed and kicked and tried to turn her head to bite the man's strong arms, but all she got was a mouthful of the bitter grease of his waxed coat.
Jess felt herself being dragged across the dirt, half trying to find her feet, half trying to make herself heavy and hard to hold. Her earphones pulled out of her ears but she could still hear the beat — tinny and feeble — somewhere around her neck, along with the scrape of gravel and the squeezed sound of her own breath. Her father's horsebox left her vision and she saw the early-morning clouds like puffs of cotton wool in a pale-blue sky; Mrs Barlow's trailer flashed briefly and she grabbed for the loop of baler twine attached to the side. Her fingers burned as she was torn from it. She yelped.
This was real.
This was really happening.
The yelp reminded her that she had a voice and she said 'help', in a way that sounded both experimental and petulant.
She was embarrassed to be shouting for help like a victim in a movie, when she was Jess Took, who was just a normal girl in a boring place. Still, she said it again more loudly and the man's hand banged across her mouth and nose hard enough to make her eyes water. She felt instantly violated in a way she hadn't while being dragged from her father's horsebox and across a gritty patch of moorland. The hand was woollen and smelled of dirt. She tried to shake it off but the man gripped her face tightly now — pressing her teeth into her tender lips, shutting off her airway, his overwhelming strength sapping what was left of hers.
He spoke calmly in her ear. 'If you scream, I'll shoot you in the head.'
The bone went out of Jess's legs and she felt terror warm her thighs.
She sobbed fear and shame in equal measure.
He turned her, and pushed instead of pulled; something hard caught her across the buttocks and she tumbled backwards and landed just a couple of feet down on what felt like hard carpet.
Her legs were picked up and hoisted after her, and she just had time to register that she was in the boot of a car before the lid fell and cut off her cry, her light — and every idea she'd ever had of how her world was going to be — with a single metallic bang.
The hunt drew a blank.
The dogs followed the trails laid by terrier men on quad bikes to their anti-climactic conclusions and never had a sniff of an accidental fox to liven up the day. Blue Boy stumbled after jumping the stream at the bottom of Withypool Common, and by the end of the day he was uneven. The huntsman wasted fifteen minutes cutting a hound out of a barbed-wire fence. And that over-horsed fool Graham Gigman kept overtaking the field and the Master on his white-legged, wall-eyed beast that should have been shot as it slid out of the mare, in John Took's not-so-humble opinion.
All in all, by the time they got back to the foot of Dunkery Beacon, where they'd left the boxes, Took's mood was foul.
'At least it didn't rain,' shouted Graham Gigman as his nasty animal skittered sideways past Took for the last time. Until the next time.
Took ignored him and slid sullenly from Blue Boy's back. The bay's near fore was swollen at the knee.
Great. He'd have to ride Scotty on Monday, and Scotty was not half the horse Blue Boy was.
Took banged the tailgate shut on Blue Boy, removed his sweaty helmet and opened the door of the horsebox.
'Not a bloody fox in sight,' he told Jess.
Except Jess wasn't there.
Instead there was a note on the steering wheel. A yellow square.
John Took's mouth tightened. Bloody Jess and her teenage rebellion. She used to be such an easy kid before the divorce. Where'd she buggered off to now?
He reached up and peeled the note off the wheel. As he read it, his frown of annoyance became one of confusion. The note consisted of four words that were both simple and utterly mysterious.
You don't love her.CHAPTER 2
There was a place between light and dark — between life and death — where Jonas Holly lived after his wife died.
He was split into the physical and the psychological — a keen division which saw him wake every day, get up, get dressed, move his arms and legs, blink, while all the time his mind just sat there as if on hold in the great switchboard of life. His mental processes stretched no further than the immediate and the practical. It got dark, he switched on a light; the milk arrived, he took it in; he had thirst, he drank water. On the rare occasions when he hungered, he ate. It took him almost two months to pick his way through what was left in the freezer, the larder, and Mrs Paddon's doorstep donations. His already long frame became stretched; he ran out of notches on his belt. Finally, canned tomatoes over kidney beans marked the end of food and the start of starvation or shopping. It took Jonas three days before he walked into the village to choose the latter.
He was pared down to the primitive. Animalistic. He barely spoke. Every few days he would answer Mrs Paddon's neighbourly inquiry with a mumbled 'Fine, thanks' and then immediately go indoors. For an hour once a week he was probed by the psychologist and managed to tell her virtually nothing. The only reason he went to Bristol for their sessions was because he had to be passed fit before he could go back to work, and the only reason he planned to go back to work was because he had absolutely no idea of what else he might do with the rest of his life. Or much interest in the subject.
Kate Gulliver, the psychologist, seemed OK but he didn't trust her. Nothing personal — Jonas didn't trust anyone any more, not even himself.
Especially not himself.
Occasionally Jonas would look hard into the bathroom mirror. He never saw anything but his own brown eyes staring back at him quizzically, doubting even his own memory of events. He remembered the knife. He remembered the blood. He remembered how one had led to the other. At least, he thought he did. His memory had always been shaky, and the lack of horror that accompanied these images made him wonder whether they had happened that way at all, or whether they were all his mind could cope with for now. Maybe the gaps would be filled in later, when he was better able to deal with another truth.
He hoped not.
It was already enough truth for Jonas that every time he went upstairs in their tiny cottage, he had to cross the flagstones behind the front door where Lucy had died — and where he had almost managed to follow her.
Sometimes he pissed in the garden and slept on the couch.
Truth was overrated.
Kate — who encouraged Jonas to call her that — talked about the stages of grief and wanted him to explore his feelings. Jonas thought that would be a bad idea. He knew his feelings were in there somewhere, on a high shelf in the wardrobe of his psyche, but he was wary of fetching the stool that might enable him to reach them.
He was worried about what else he might find there.
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Jonas knew the stages of grief by now. He knew them backwards. He could juggle them like plates. It didn't mean he knew how they felt.
So instead he had done his best to demonstrate the appropriate emotions at what he guessed were appropriate intervals over the eight months they'd spent in each other's sporadic company.
'Do you ever feel guilty?' Kate would ask.
'Of course,' he'd answer. 'I should have got there sooner. In time. To stop it.'
She'd nod seriously and he'd look at his hands.
He'd spent three sessions in total silence, gazing dully at the cheap carpet in her stage-set office while she'd asked careful questions at long intervals. It had been calming and, he imagined, would be construed as depression.
Soon he would have to find the energy to have a go at anger. He kept putting it off.
In one way he hoped that affecting emotions might magically give rise to the real thing, but all he had felt since the death of his wife was a strange numbness that was a smoked-glass barrier to reality.
Only in his dreams did Jonas feel anything at all. In his dreams he often found Lucy. It was always somewhere unexpected. He would catch the Tiverton bus and find her sitting up front with shopping bags at her feet; he would steal a trinket in a foreign bazaar and then turn to find her at his shoulder. Once he saw her through the slats of Weston pier, and they kept flickering pace with one another — he above and she on the wet sand below — until they reached the beach, where they embraced.
Always they embraced.
Always they wept with joy.
I found you. I found you. He repeated it without moving his lips — a song sung by his heart that made his flesh tremble with happiness.
Always it ended the same way. Lucy sobbing in his ear: 'You shouldn't have come looking for me, Jonas.' And he would realize for the first time that her body was cold when it should be warm, and — even as that horror struck him — he would feel her turn into a slab of dead meat in his arms.
He would wake, still groping for her, his pillow soaked in sweat and tears, calling 'I love you' into the darkness or the dawn.
Jonas didn't tell Kate Gulliver any of that.
He also didn't tell her how time slipped away from him. How he would fall asleep on the couch and wake in the kitchen with a knife in his hand. How the impulse to put the glittering blade into his mouth and jab and stab at his tongue and palate and cheeks until the blood ran from him like a hose was almost overwhelming. Or how, more than once, he'd watched his own hands twist a pair of his uniform trousers into a noose. They were an old pair, and missing a button — no good to anyone who wasn't handy, or who didn't have a handy wife.
He lost whole days — disappeared inside his head just as surely as if he'd been abducted by aliens. He would be returned to find that nothing had changed but the clocks.
Sometimes the calendar.
These were all things that his new, animal self knew were better left unsaid. Better not explored.
And so Jonas Holly said nothing, felt nothing, and hovered between the light and the dark — between life and death — until such time as he might be allowed to return to work as an Exmoor village policeman.CHAPTER 3
Steven Lamb wasn't sure exactly what he'd expected for his £300, but this definitely wasn't it.
Ronnie had told him the bike was not a runner. 'We'll get it going though, no bother,' Ronnie had assured him as they drove to Minehead. And Steven was assured. Ronnie Trewell could get anything going – countless Somerset drivers who'd had cars stolen despite locks, alarms and immobilizers could attest to that.
But what Ronnie hadn't told him was that the 125cc Suzuki was in what looked like a thousand bits. Two wheels and the frame were identifiable, but everything else – engine parts, cables, lights, tank, levers, nuts and bolts – was jumbled into two giant plastic boxes.
'It's all there, mate,' said the greasy-looking man with the shifty eyes whom Ronnie had introduced as 'Gary'. 'Top bloke,' Ronnie had added – as if that was all the insurance Steven should need to trust someone he'd never met with all the money he had in the world in exchange for a collection of random mechanical parts.
'There's the exhaust,' said his best friend, Lewis, peering into a box – as if that proved that the rest of the bike must be present.
Steven thought of all the mornings he'd got up in darkness to trudge through rain and snow with a bag of newspapers on his hip, to earn the money he had in his jeans pocket right now. Since he was thirteen. Four years' worth of numb fingers, blue toes and shooting pains in his ears, which stuck out beyond the protection of his dark hair. He'd bought other things along the way – a skateboard with Bones Swiss bearings, a necklace for his mum's birthday, a new shopping trolley for his nan, and even the occasional quid for Davey when his brother needed bribing. But a motorbike had been the goal for the past two years and Steven had been devoted to its acquisition. The thought of being able to leave Shipcott without relying on lifts from Ronnie or the Tithecott twins, or lurching country buses filled with blue-haired ladies and men who smelled of cows, was all the motivation he'd needed to keep walking, keep working, keep waiting.
'Deal?' said Gary, and stuck out his hand.
Steven looked at Lewis, who avoided his eyes – the bloody coward – and then at Ronnie, who gave him an encouraging nod.
'OK then,' said Steven miserably, and tried to shake the man's outstretched hand, only to be embarrassed to realize that it was held out palm-up for the money, not to seal the deal like gentlemen. Gary laughed as he fumbled, and Steven felt like a boy among men.
Feeling slightly sick, he took out the envelope stuffed with notes and – like Jack handing over his mother's cow for a handful of magic beans – gave it to Gary.
He wanted desperately to ask for a receipt, as his mother had insisted he must, but Gary had already stuffed the money into his back pocket and was picking up one of the boxes.
'Give you a hand,' he said, as if he wanted rid of the evidence as quickly as possible before anyone rumbled his scam.
Lewis took the frame, which was the lightest thing on offer, Ronnie picked up the other box despite his limp, and Steven took a wheel in each hand. They loaded what Steven desperately hoped was a complete motorcycle into the trailer Ronnie had borrowed from somewhere, and got into the Fiesta. Lewis in the front, Steven squashed up behind with an old greyhound, which was obviously used to stretching out on the back seat – and which gave way only grudgingly, before flopping back down across his legs.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Finders Keepers"
Copyright © 2012 Belinda Bauer.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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