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A Slow Fire Burning

Review

A Slow Fire Burning

With her debut novel, a little story called THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, Paula Hawkins launched herself into the stratosphere of bestsellers that are almost immediately adapted for the big screen. Unfortunately, this instant success put a huge amount of pressure on her to find lightning in a bottle a second time. Her sophomore effort, INTO THE WATER, was a decent mystery but nowhere near the success of her first book.

Upon finishing her third novel, A SLOW FIRE BURNING, I can proudly state that Hawkins has another hit on her hands. It’s her most complex work to date, a mystery that practically comes down to the final page to reveal the truth. “Some of us are made to be carrion birds & some of us are made to be circled” (Emily Skaja, “My History As”).There are many famous quotes and adages that state the same idea, but I found this one, with which Hawkins opens the novel, to be particularly chilling.

"Midway through, there seems to be a new revelation with each passing chapter, which makes the shocking ending that much more impactful."

It begins with a young woman wearing blood-soaked clothing and thinking of ways to dispose of any evidence of where she was or what had occurred. Laura just had a one-night stand with Daniel, a young man who will be discovered by a neighbor brutally murdered inside his houseboat on a London canal. Miriam, a middle-aged frumpy woman, waits for the police to arrive in the form of Inspector Barker and his team. For some reason, she picks up a house key that she finds by Daniel’s body and pockets it.

There are a trio of women whose stories and lives circle around Daniel and his murder, the third being his Aunt Carla. Carla has already been grieving the death of her sister, Daniel’s mother, just weeks earlier in a freak home accident. Her husband Theo, from whom she is currently separated, is a semi-famous novelist who has his own role to play in this story. He has been receiving harassing notes from a fellow amateur writer who claims that he stole the idea for his bestseller, The One Who Got Away, from her. The individual in question is none other than Miriam.

If it sounds like you might need a scorecard to keep characters and stories straight, you would be right. Hawkins has only just begun spinning her spider’s web of a tale, and the directions, pitfalls and plot traps that follow make for a treacherous journey into a novel that will quickly turn dark and unpredictable. Inspector Barker ends up arresting Laura as the primary suspect, but there are plenty more revelations to come.

A SLOW FIRE BURNING is a novel of secrets, some of which are quite dark, and you will go back and forth in your own head as you try to determine which of the three women might have had something to do with Daniel’s murder. It is a slow burn of a read, but by no means is it mundane. Midway through, there seems to be a new revelation with each passing chapter, which makes the shocking ending that much more impactful.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 10, 2021

A Slow Fire Burning
by Paula Hawkins

  • Publication Date: August 31, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 073521123X
  • ISBN-13: 9780735211230