Sent to me by Penguin Hutchinson in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 09/11/17
Format: Hardback, 368pp
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Summed up in a word: Abreaction
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t incredibly jubilant at the prospect of reviewing Bonfire. I have been a fan of Krysten Ritter since Breaking Bad and I seriously enjoyed her portrayal of Jessica Jones in the recent Defenders team up. Bonfire is Krysten’s debut full length novel and it is a cracking read. It is a claustrophobic, small town mystery novel with all the dark twists and turns you would expect from the genre. The fact that Krysten’s writing felt organic and natural when fleshing out the story made this immensely readable. It felt that she was writing from experience, not just to spin a good yarn. I highly recommend Bonfire to all psychological thriller/law/crime readers. Full review below.
Nothing burns as bright as the truth.
It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.
But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s economic heart, she begins to find strange connections to a decade-old scandal involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.
But as Abby tries desperately to find out what happened to Kaycee, troubling memories begin to resurface and she begins to doubt her own observations. And when she unearths an even more disturbing secret, her search threatens the reputations, and lives, of the community and risks exposing a darkness that may consume her.
With tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote, rural town of five claustrophobic miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of what happens when your past and present collide.
Bonfire is an exceptional American small-town psychological thriller written by one of the most prominent female actresses in modern television. Krysten Ritter has packed her debut novel with all the twists, suspense, claustrophobia and dark themes needed to construct a fantastic thriller novel. With the striking and dramatic tone of reliving childhood trauma combined with the well thought out and professional legal/law plot arc, this novel delivers on many different levels. Bonfire will appeal to a wide range of crime/law/thriller fans.
Abby Williams escaped her troubled life in Barrens, Indiana over a decade ago. Having fled to Chicago to become a lawyer, Abby made something of her life. Abby lives her life on her own terms, enjoying the densely populated and modern lifestyle that Chicago has to offer. She has worked hard to forget what happened, but it always remains etched in every fibre of her being; unanswered questions that haunt her. But when a new case takes her back to Barrens, a case that may be connected to the town’s dark past, Abby sees her opportunity to put to get the answers that she desperately craves.
Optimal, a company that is the life-blood of the town, is being accused of poisoning the town’s citizens through polluted water. Abby and her team work as part of the The Centre for Environmental Advocacy Work and they have been sent to investigate these allegations almost a decade after they were targeted by the town once before. Optimal moved to Barrens when Abby was in high school. Soon after their arrival all those years ago, some of the schools students became seriously ill. A case was made against Optimal for knowingly poisoning the citizens of Barrens. The case was dropped when it was discovered that it was all an elaborate prank that went too far. But Abby knew those girls, saw them in private and it didn’t look like a prank to her.
Present day Barrens is, though rife with commercialisation, relatively the same. The same people Abby knew at high school now have positions of power within the community. Almost as soon as Abby makes it over the threshold into Barrens she is confronted by her past in the form of Misha. Kaycee, Misha and a bunch of other girls made Abby’s life a living hell in high school. As the memories come flooding back, Abby returns to the anxious mess she was before.
Luckily she is a professional with a mission to take part in. A case that will keep her grounded. But Optimal IS Barrens, without them the town would have perished a longtime ago. The town aren’t about to turn on their salvation, a company that controls the town’s money. Abby and her team have one hell of a job on their hands. The case is just business, but as time goes on and the town creeps back under Abby’s skin, it becomes incredibly personal. Can she connect the two cases together before Optimal or the Barrens try and stop her?
Most of Abby’s past is centred around Kaycee, the ring-leader of the high school cliche and chief engineer of the ‘prank’. Present day she is no where to be seen. Abby knows she was hiding something back then, they used to be best friends before the inevitable school separation made Kaycee into a hunter and Abby into prey. Abby worked hard to understand Kaycee and if she can just get hold of her, then Abby might be able to paint a bigger picture of what is truly going on in this town. But all the old faces are tight-lipped about her too. Abby must divulge the truth via the case, working with her team to chase leads and talk people into co-operation. The deeper they dig, the more that Abby’s personal and professional lives begin to merge.
I thought Abby was a brilliant protagonist for this story. A tough but vulnerable soul who is looking to end the turmoil within her mind. Abby is set on finding out what Optimal is really up to and why Kaycee might have been lying about the prank. Abby struggles a lot with being back in town, mostly because of the drastic difference of the people she once knew. Especially her father. The once angry, bible-bashing monster is now a shell of the man he once was. This is the sort of tone that KR brings to the novel. Everything is different though there are echos of the town that once was, Abby’s cognitive dissonance is dizzying and it adds a fascinating conflict to her character. I enjoyed the clash of a professional and personal atmosphere. That warped sense of knowing that bleeds into the official investigation into Optimal and its possible dirty deeds.
I thought the narrative was both engrossing and challenging. KR has crafted Abby’s hunt for the truth really well. Infusing many tones and atmospheres to keep the reader on their toes. I would say that maybe there is too much going on at once in Bonfire. In the second act I felt that there was too many smaller plots vying for attention. It felt less cohesive and the flow of the story became choppy and chaotic. The story quality never dipped but it was hard to tell at times where KR was taking each of the plot-lines. This style suits what the novel is trying to achieve but it didn’t suit me that well as a reader. Luckily all the sub-plots pulled together and the flow resumed towards the end of the 2nd act/start of the 3rd act.
Krysten Ritter went all out with Bonfire and it is a cracking read. 2017 is certainly the year for the psychological thriller and Bonfire may be headed to the top of my list. Small town thrillers are a dime-a-dozen but it is the author’s execution of them that makes them great. KR writes as though it is from personal experience, not just words on a page. I enjoyed KR’s thoughtful, passionate prose, her writing is determined, compelling but also filled with anxiousness and regret. The combination of small town rumours, disturbing twists, emotional fragility and caustic relationships makes the thriller side to this novel stand out. I also thought the inclusion of a well fleshed out and consistent legal aspect to Bonfire took the novel to another level. It gave an objective view to the town that Abby was incapable of providing.
Overall this is a novel about truth, reconciliation and catharsis. I highly recommend this to all crime/law/thriller fans who enjoy a psychological thriller with an impressive legal element threaded through. I am seriously looking forward to KR next novel!
About Krysten Ritter
KRYSTEN RITTER is well known for her starring roles in the award winning Netflix original series, Jessica Jones, and cult favourite, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, as well as her pivotal role on AMC’s Breaking Bad. Ritter’s work on film includes Big Eyes, Listen Up Philip, Life Happens, Confessions of a Shopaholic and She’s Out of My League. She is the founder of Silent Machine, a production company that aims to highlight complex female protagonists. Ritter and her dog Mikey split their time between New York and Los Angeles.