Book Review: Disbelieved

Disbelieved, by Beth Webb, is YA crime fiction with a touch of the supernatural. Its protagonists are fifteen year old Anelise Skinner and seventeen year old Joseph Bonne, cousins whose peers refer to them disparagingly as Skin and Bone. Anelise’s mother is dead and her father is working abroad so she lives with her Aunt Genevieve, Joe’s mother. Genevieve Skinner is a professor of forensics, currently assisting in a criminal trial. Joe’s father no longer appears to be involved in their lives.

Joe is fascinated by forensics and has access to his mother’s lab at their home. Anelise is a troubled young girl, coping with her demons by dying her hair different, garish colours and snacking on highly sugared foodstuffs.

The story opens above an abandoned quarry where Anelise is out walking. She sees a fast moving cyclist lose control of his bike and plummet over the edge into the undergrowth below. Horrified she phones for help, summoning emergency services. They search the area but find no sign of the cyclist. Anelise is chastised by the police for wasting their time.

The following weekend Joe takes his cousin back to the quarry in an attempt to find a rational explanation for what she saw as it is still bothering her. They witness the same cyclist as he crashes through the fence and into the quarry. This time they can both see him after the event, lying still and bleeding below.

Anelise’s apparent premonition upsets her further and causes the police to treat her with suspicion. It also gives a local reporter something juicy to write about. Joe meanwhile is carefully sweeping the scene, taking photographs and gathering samples as potential evidence. What the cousins saw and heard suggests this may not have been an accident. The police do not take their concerns seriously, regarding them as bothersome children.

The two teenagers soon fall foul of another witness, a man who seems keen to keep them away from the damaged bike. This soon disappears but not before Joe collects traces of white powder from the frame. They recognise that if drugs are involved what they are doing could be dangerous.

Undeterred they set out to uncover who may have wished to harm the cyclist and why. He was a blogger, employed by a bike shop to promote and deliver their wares. Donning disguises they investigate in key locations. With Genevieve away or busy with work they seek help from sources who treat them as the problem.

The plot is well structured, fast moving and with plenty of tension as befits crime writing. The vivid portrayal of the key moments of crisis suggests this would make fine television. My only quibble was with the denouement, a twist that was signalled but I couldn’t quite rationalise. This did not spoil my enjoyment of the story.

Young people have long relished tales in which adults are absent or do not take them seriously and are then proved wrong. Anelise may need to hone her unusual gift, and find a way to cope with it that does not require such regular sugar hits, but I would like to see this pair further developed. They have the potential to be an alluring addition to the crime fiction canon.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.

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