Jack, Joy and Merry wait anxiously in their mother’s car, stopped on the hard shoulder, in August 1998. The summer heat is stifling, and desperate for fresh air, 11-year old Jack gets out with his younger sisters, carrying baby Merry. The glaring sun beats down on them and cars rush past, nobody stopping, as they navigate their way through the bracken and waste running parallel to the motorway. They walk for what feels like forever. They can’t see their (heavily pregnant) mother anywhere, and over the coming weeks, they come to know they never will again.
Three years later, Jack is trying to hold it together in the family home. While the outside remains presentable – they mow the lawn, take out the rubbish, paint the front door – the tumultuous inside tells a very different story. Newspapers tower from floor to ceiling, to the extent that the siblings have had to create a rabbit-warren of tunnels to navigate from room to room. The fridge is usually empty, and Joy wears the same faded pink nighty. Merry plays with her tortoise and reads vampire books. Their father left one day to get milk, a year ago, and never came home.
“She remembered earthquake survivors saying that the ground under their feet had turned to liquid and rolled in great waves. That was how she felt. As if she’d built something on solid ground that had suddenly turned to ocean.”
Nearby, heavily pregnant Catherine senses an intruder in her house – with a note left on her bedside table. I could have killed you. Panicked, she decides not to call the police, and not tell her husband. After all, she’s high on pregnancy hormones and is probably exaggerating the threat to herself.
In the same town, Detectives Marvel and Reynolds find themselves in an unlikely team, attempting to solve a string of burglaries that have left the local police force stumped. Chalk and cheese, Marvel is a gruff, old-school and irritable DCI who is disgruntled to find himself on such a mundane case. Reynolds is uptight, by-the-book and disparaging of worldly evils such as watching TV and eating MacDonald’s. Their dynamic brings moments of levity that serve to counteract the darkness.
“Or because she’s an unattractive middle-aged woman,” said Reynolds.
“Alright, Germaine Greer,” snapped Marvel.
Snap tells an unsettling, sad story about the devastating impact of loss – but it is peppered throughout with light humour, with bravery, and with characters who feel very much real. Despite being written in the third-person, Bauer gets in the head of each of the characters through a clever use of free indirect speech that collapses the distance between them and the reader. Rather than relying on graphic descriptions or shock tactics, Snap winds its way deftly through an exploration of grief, perseverance and humanity.