“Snap” by Belinda Bauer – a first-rate thriller and a pleasant surprise on the 2018 Man Booker Longlist.

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“Snap” was my second Man Booker Longlist read. As soon as I started it, I felt like I was in ‘familiar territory – albeit well-written familiar territory.

“Snap” is an evocatively written thriller that starts with one timeline in 1998 about a pregnant mother vanishing from the motorway after her car broke down and another timeline in 2001 with a pregnant woman at home alone when someone breaks in.

The chapters are short, immersive and paced to maximise the tension.  I knew the two timelines must intersect but part of the fun was not knowing how.

“Snap” is just the sort of thriller I’d choose to buy. but I was at a loss to understand why it was on the Man Booker Longlist. Were they doing fun, accessible, genre reads now?

I rapidly reached the halfway point in the novel, (“Snap” was hard to put down) but I still didn’t really know what was going on, even though the two storylines had finally collided in a completely surprising and deeply intriguing way.

Yet NOT knowing but REALLY WANTING to know and being confident that you will eventually find out and when you do it will be something surprising but that feels true and finally makes sense of all of the angst and pain, is the essence of what makes a thriller a thriller.

“Snap” has best-seller written all over it from page one. It took me to the second half of the book to understand Mann Booker’s interest: it is deeply rooted in the characters of the people who are entangled in the events: their faults, their fears, their deepest desires. It is about the impact of abandonment, the need for hope and the power of a constantly refilled cistern of anger that HAS to escape somehow.

“Snap” isn’t one of those one-shot, I-didn’t-see-THAT-coming trickster thrillers that were once fun but that now feel so me-too that I eschew them. This is a thriller where the plot is pushed by emotion rather than the mechanics of a police procedural novel.

The main characters are children: resourceful but damaged, surviving but not thriving. constantly feeling the loss of the life that was stolen from them the day their mother disappeared  It seemed to me that the story took on the wish-fulfilment magic that children use to cope with the unbearable. The police are also a little child-like, bumbling along, powered by ego and opinion and replacing best practice with intuition and testosterone.

Throughout the story, the young boy dreams that he has found his mother. In his sleep, he returns to the day that, as he thinks of it, he failed to find her. The dreams are a painful mix of guilt, anger and grief.

It seems to me that these dreams, the boy’s guilt, his bone-deep need to make things better, his conviction that he will fail, set the tone for the novel.

The ending may be a little too fairytale to satisfy fans of hard-bitten crime stories but it felt appropriate to me. While it’s at the borders of the plausible, it’s exactly where it needs to be to make those dreams no more than a memory.

I recommend “Snap” both as a thriller and a strong Mann Booker contestant.

I wonder, if it wins the Man Booker, will it sell fewer copies than if it had been given the usual “this is Gillian Flynn on steroids” hype?

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