Publisher's Perspective: CWA Winner Belinda Bauer Goes to the Darkside

It’s not every year that a first novelist wins the Crime Writers’ Association Golden Dagger award. In fact, it hasn’t happened since 1973. But at this year’s October 8 ceremony in London, Belinda Bauer managed to wrest the dagger from fellow contenders George Pelecanos, S.J. Bolton, and Karen Campbell with her chilling and psychologically acute Blacklands.
For Simon & Schuster, Bauer’s U.S. publisher, the timing was perfect. Plans were just gearing up for promotion of the paperback edition of Blacklands, due out in January 2011 after the January 2010 publication of the hardcover, and for Bauer’s new novel, Darkside (See “Fiction), to be released here in May. Bauer has a passionate in-house following eager to build her audience stateside, and that CWA dagger should prove to be an excellent weapon.
Bauer’s U.S. editor, Sarah Knight, loved Blacklands the moment she read it. As it happened, she was then at Shaye Areheart Books and saw the novel fast-tracked to Simon & Schuster before she could make a move. Imagine her delight to find Bauer among her authors when she shifted publishers. Having seen the manuscript, she was hardly surprised that Blacklands won such strong reviews‚ and so many of them. I really take notice when someone is that mature on a first novel, comments Knight. Some writers aren’t ready to explore all of a story’s nuances, but Belinda was.
In Blacklands, 12-year-old Steven, whose family was left emotionally empty by the long-ago murder of Steven’s uncle as a child, begins corresponding with the imprisoned murderer. The novel triumphed, says Knight, because Bauer was able to enter so deeply into the minds of two incredibly different people‚ a small boy and a serial killer‚ that the story took on a life of own.
While maintaining the first novel’s tension and acute insight‚ not to mention the setting, tiny Shipcolt, England, on the edge of Exmoor‚ Darkside goes off in another direction. Jonas Holly, a policeman who abandoned a promising career in homicide investigation to settle quietly with his ailing wife, is tripped up by the inexplicable murder of an elderly woman. Other murders unfold, and as Jonas tries to protect the town, Bauer uses atmosphere and deep characterization, says Knight, to offer an amazing feat of psychological suspense.
Unlike its predecessor, Darkside is not being published here in hardcover but in trade paperback. While Blacklands got enviable reviews and was enthusiastically embraced by booksellers nationwide, it didn’t do as well as expected, and the change of format should help. It’s a challenge to publish an author from overseas, explains Knight, and the paperback format can give you a foothold in this particular market.
The campaign to sell Darkside is starting with the Blacklands paperback, which will benefit from exempt co-op, a bound-in reading group guide and author Q&A, a huge pitch to the accounts, eblasts to key mystery and book club accounts, and more. Early in-house distribution of the Darkside manuscript is aimed at firing enthusiasm, and crowing about the CWA win can’t hurt. Avers Knight, We are going to take this house favorite and make it work.
There’s no decision yet on whether Darkside will have its own reading group guide, but it’s an excellent book for discussion‚ and not just because women’s and crime fiction are popular with book clubs. Bauer so carefully crafts all the basic elements‚ plot, character, setting, language‚ that each can be pulled apart and examined like a cluster of tiny jewels.
What’s more, Bauer comes up with such masterly twists that readers will be asking one another, Did you catch that? And the conclusion will leave everyone not just surprised, but satisfyingly surprised, which is a rare thing, insists Knight. Take a second look, and it’s evident that the wrap-up was slyly hinted at all along.
Just as Bauer hinted at her own talent from the get-go. Having won the Carl Foreman/Bafta Award for Young British Screenwriters for her script, The Locker Room, she found out about the CWA’s Debut Dagger competition and entered Blacklands. She had to settle for Highly Commended but got immediate agent attention and sold her manuscript for a bundle. Then came the glowing reviews, a TV Book Club pick in Britain, and that shiny award. Clearly, Bauer is on to something big; American readers, take note.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.


  1. rita p says:

    Thanks for the alert on Belinda Bauer.

    Rita P
    Tulsa, OK