Don’t we all remember the girl at school who ruled? The tyrant who could make or break your popularity with the group? Who had an uncanny knack for knowing how to rule – by hurt or flattery, by offering the privilege of their attention or the cruelty of ostracism.
Of course their dominance is short lived. You move on from the age when everyone wants to be the same, to one where suddenly everyone wants to be different, and then their power is gone.
But Abby, from a small town in Indiana, never moved on from Kaycee, because Kaycee disappeared. This came after another dramatic period in their school career, when Kaycee and several of her acolytes appeared to suffer a bizarre illness. They were going to sue Optimal Plastics, the industry that dominates Barrens, but then admitted that they’d made the whole thing up.
Now Abby is a successful lawyer in Chicago. She’s the one who got away. But she’s still haunted by Kaycee’s illness and disappearance so when new complaints come in about Optimal, she wants to take the case.
This is a promising setup. I love a legal thriller and the prologue, a flashback to the first appearance of Kaycee’s illness in high school, is beautifully written, capturing the conflict (as Abby perceives it) in Kaycee’s eyes – fear and pain, but also vindication in being the centre of attention. Abby’s return home is movingly captured – particularly in her tense relationship with her father.
However, for me Bonfire falls down in a number of areas and is ultimately disappointing. It doesn’t have the reversals and clever argument and big egos and cut-and-thrust of a legal thriller. In fact there’s not that much law in it. It’s much more about Abby coming home to confront her demons. Her depiction of small-town life is atmospheric, but the characters all feel like recognisable types – the bitch, the bad boy, the first crush. There are no surprises or ambiguities. This limited (in both senses) cast of characters means it’s not hard to guess where the story is going.
It feels like the author didn’t quite know how to structure the story. The plot didn’t give the characters enough to do, which in turn meant they did not develop or reveal themselves through action. Instead we get too much of Abby going back over the same reminiscences (I felt my heart sink each time her childhood pet dog came up again!).
However, I loved the prose and the power of that prologue. I’d be interested to see what the author does next.
I received a copy of Bonfire from the publisher via Netgalley.
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