On a stifling summer’s day, eleven-year-old Jack and his two sisters sit in their broken-down car, waiting for their mother to come back and rescue them. Jack’s in charge, she’d said. I won’t be long. But she doesn’t come back. And life as the children know it is changed forever. Three years later, Jack is still in charge – of his sisters, of finding the money to buy food and keep them all alive, and – quite suddenly – of finding out the truth about what happened to his mother.

Snap by Belinda Bauer caused waves recently when it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2018. Readers were alternately thrilled and outraged to have a popular crime novelist up for an award usually reserved for literary fiction. So for Snap to be elevated to such heights, it must be a pretty special book. Right?

Wrong. Snap is one of the least interesting and least memorable crime novels I’ve ever read. Not only were the characters bland and uninteresting, but the plot was pedestrian and the central question at the heart of the story – what happened to Jack’s mother? – fails to have a satisfying conclusion. For me, this was the most unforgiveable of Bauer’s sins. I hung on through the rest of this dull book in the hope that the ending might offer something shocking or at least mildly interesting, but in the end I put the book down with a disappointed sigh and rejoiced in the fact that it was finally over.

The book relies heavily on ridiculous coincidences that stretch the reader’s suspension of disbelief to impossible lengths. For example, the solution of the crime relies largely on the discovery of a one-of-a-kind, custom-made knife found at the crime scene, and Jack’s best friend just happens to be a knife expert. It’s also peppered with clichés – the maverick detective playing by his own rules is one crime convention that’s so overdone it really needs to be put to bed. Particularly in the case of Bauer’s Detective Marvel, who’s also a horrible misogynist to boot.

The only part of the book I enjoyed was the character of Jack. A boy who desperately misses his mother and who struggles with the sudden burden of responsibility thrust upon his young shoulders, he turns to crime to keep his family afloat. The first few pages with Jack stuck in the broken-down car with his sisters are the best in the whole book. After that, however, there’s no tension, no suspense, just a steady plodding towards a disappointing end.

Our other main character is Catherine, a heavily pregnant woman whose connection to Jack becomes apparent as the disparate threads of the story weave together. Unfortunately, Catherine is not so much a character as a plot device. She does and says whatever the author requires her to, rather than acting like a convincing, realistic character. This seems to be a theme for Bauer’s female characters; Catherine spends her time making stupid decisions in order to set events in motion, while policewoman Elizabeth Rice is used as dim-witted comic relief, and Jack’s sisters Joy and Merry hardly get a word in edgeways.

There are many people who loved this book but I found it so dull that I definitely won’t be recommending it to anyone.