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Quick Review: Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

By Diane Awerbuck for The Times

Belinda Bauer’s brilliant new book, Rubbernecker, ticks all the outsider lit boxes. Fascinated by the macabre – as a boy he collected small dead animals – Patrick Fort doesn’t care “… what made people work. He was interested in what happened when they stopped …” Mildly autistic, he’s a clever addition to the amateur sleuth genre, but he’s no Hardy Boy.

The loss of his father in an apparent car accident has left Fort with his frustrated mother. She craves responsive attention from her offspring, but an Asperger’s sufferer is never going to end a phone call with “I love you”.

Fort may make a disappointing son, but he is an ideal detective. He was taught as a child to read people’s faces and finds it hard to understand humour – but he also knows exactly when someone is lying.

In an effort to understand the meaning of his father’s death, Fort begins an anatomy course at Cardiff University Hospital, where he must dissect a cadaver. Some of the best, most gruesome, writing happens in the cutting room: “They prised the brain out with spoons, and it flopped into Patrick’s hands …”

In the process, he finds his suspicions about the world and the people in it confirmed. Fort, it turns out, is not half as handicapped as the “normal” people he gets to know.

Bauer is adept at alternating bleak and hilarious interludes. Awful coma nurse Tracy is a lovely, grim set piece: “The coma ward was boring yet difficult. Like golf.”

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