hawkins’ debut thriller The Girl on the Train came out hot on the heels of the film-adaptation of Gone Girl, when the psych suspense market was craving MORE LIKE THIS, PLEASE, and it became a runaway bestseller that everyone either loved or loved to hate, but its success ushered in a WAVE of twisty suspense novels trying to hitch a ride aboard the gone girl on the (gravy) train, so many of which unabashedly featured the word “girl” or “woman” in their titles.
her follow-up, Into the Water, was a much quieter release, and wasn’t even a mystery, IMO; it was a character-driven investigation of a situation that happened to have a body count, in a similar vein to ivy pochoda’s exquisite These Women.
A Slow Fire Burning is a return to the twisty twisty murder myst’ry style that put hawkins on the map, with a large cast of unlikable, unreliable characters full of secrets and hidden agendas, carefully clipped clues and misdirection. there aren’t any trains this time, but there are SEVERAL boats.
it also features a mystery novelist character who gives a little meta-commentary on the genre as well as roadmap to the novel itself:
It was a book that exposed the way the sympathies of the reader might be manipulated, laying bare how quickly we jump to conclusions about guilt and innocence, power and responsibility.
there’s even a novel-within-the-novel, giving the book an unusual shape hawkins seems to anticipate will invite criticism, which she cheekily addresses, using the novelist character:
“I thought it was so interesting, the way you turned the whole thing around, you know, telling the story backward in some parts and forwards in others, letting us see inside the killer’s head—that was so brilliant! At first you, like, you don’t know what’s going on, but then it’s just like…woah. So cool. I loved the way you turned everything on its head, playing with our sympathies and empathies and all that business.”
“Really?” Theo laughed, faking incredulity. “I thought everybody thought that was a terrible idea.”
“Well, I didn’t. I thought it was clever. A new way to tell a story like that, makes you think, doesn’t it?”
the title, however, does not describe the book—this fire burns fast—a highly engaging page-turner that whisks the reader to and fro—edging close to the truth before shifting the focus away each time in a delicious flurry of NOT YET, MY LOVELIES!
unsympathetic characters, unintended consequences, unexpected connections…and murrrrderrrrrr.
i dug it.