Book review: Exit by Belinda Bauer

I used to love old British cop shows like The Bill, Inspector Morse and Taggart. British crime shows are memorable for slow-moving mystery plots and complex characters. Belinda Bauer’s crime novels are similar.

Despite sounding like a juxtaposition, Bauer’s most recent novel, Exit, is a hilarious crime thriller.

Amanda was at his shoulder now. ‘What is it?’ she said, but Felix couldn’t speak because all the words he’d ever known seemed to be whirling around inside his skull like bingo balls.
The ones he needed finally dropped slowly from his numb lips.
‘We killed the wrong man.’

Seventy-five year old widower Felix Pink is a member of the Exiteers, a secret group that supports the right to die by baring witness to the suicide of terminally ill patients then disposing of any evidence to ensure their deaths appear natural. Everything goes horribly wrong when Felix and new young Exiteer, Amanda, accidentally help the wrong patient to die.

The second voice in the story is PC Calvin Bridge, a small town policeman, and in his own eyes a failed detective. Calvin has no confidence in his own abilities. He also hoards a shameful secret past.

Even now, if she spotted Calvin from any distance, Shirley made a point fo glowering at him. And if she were with somebody else, she’d turn to them and say something, and then that person would glower at him too, which made him feel like a bad person – which he knew he wasn’t – so if he ever spotted Shirley before she spotted him, he always just hid.

A comedy of errors unfolds as Felix tries to find out whether he is guilty of murder or something more sinister is afoot, and Calvin finds himself doing the detective work he’s been avoiding.

According to British author Bauer, crime novels are about how the stories of our lives can be suddenly changed by the misdeeds of others. Life is a river and crime the rocks – it is when our lives hit a rock that we find out if we are life’s swimmers or sinkers. Bauer’s novels focus on survival and recovery after a calamity.

Baur has a knack for crafting original, oddball characters that endear the reader to them. Exit is a delightful, hilarious and farcical look at life and death, the invisibility of ageing, friendship, morality and loyalty.

Exit is Bauer’s ninth crime novel. I have written about the author before. See my review of The Shut Eye here

Book Review: The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer

Anna can’t bring herself to end it. Instead she spirals toward insanity while she sits on the pavement outside her house and polishes five tiny footprints embedded in the cement, protecting them from passers-by. Her son Daniel disappeared and the footprints are all she has left.

DCI Marvel is a curmudgeonly detective who hates most people but has a uncharacteristic empathy for the missing and murdered. His mood takes a turn for the worse when he’s assigned to look for his bosses wife’s lost dog.

Anna and Marvel meet when Anna is trying to throw herself off a bridge. When Anna goes to a psychic for help to find Daniel, she meets the owner of the missing dog and decides to help the cynical Marvel find it. Then things take a strange turn.

English crime writer Belinda Bauer brings her characters to life by exposing quirky details about the absurdities of life and then weaving them with human tragedy. She has a knack of making the almost unbelievable plausible and times you’re not sure whether to laugh or cry. Her prose flows in a way that is easy to digest and draws the reader into the characters.

The first Bauer novel I read was Snap, short listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2018. Snap was a page turner that surprised and delighted with its offbeat, idiosyncratic characters and made me an immediate fan. I must admit I wondered if I would enjoy her earlier novels as much given I seemed to have started with the best. I’m pleased to say The Shut Eye did not disappoint and I’ll be delving into more of her work in the future.