The members of the Booker Prize Committee were very proud of themselves when they longlisted a crime novel for the 2018 Booker. With Peter Temple having won a Miles Franklin a few years back it feels like Australia might be a little ahead of the game in recognising that crime genre fiction can be (and often is) “literary” enough to be considered for these awards. Unfortunately Belinda Bauer’s Snap did not make the Booker shortlist, but hopefully this represents a chink in the armour.
The book opens with a tragedy. It is 1998 and eleven year-old Jack and his two younger sisters have been left in a broken-down car by the side of the M5 while their mother goes to find a phone. Their mother never returns. Three years later the children are living on their own, their father having left them, all still traumatised in some way by the events of that day. Jack has become a thief to support his siblings and he always holds on to the idea that he can find his mother’s killer.
At the same time, heavily pregnant Catherine scares off a burglar but returns to her bed to find a wicked looking knife and a note that says “I could have killed you”. She keeps the encounter from her husband and the police but the pressure mounts as the mysterious messages continue to come.
Enter slovenly, disgraced Detective Inspector Marvel and his not too sharp crew of local detectives and the stage is set for these stories to collide.
Snap is a great crime novel with a tragic central mystery but of course it is more than that. Much like Australian author Garry Disher’s Peninsula series, Bauer’s authorial eye roams across a range of characters in a small town, building a picture of the community. Every one of these characters is a shade of grey. There is no good or bad, no brilliant detectives or purely incompetent ones, just people going about their lives, doing the best with the hand they have been dealt or doing their jobs as well as they are able. On top of this, Bauer manages to create a rising sense of tension as the various threads are drawn together and the main characters collide.
As the Booker Committee finally recognised, great crime fiction is also great fiction just cast within a crime genre frame. And Snap certainly fits this bill. Complex characters, a cracking mystery, a sly sense of humour and plenty of tension. Even if it did not make the Booker shortlist, that makes Snap a winner for any reader.