Source: Review copy
Publication: 31 August 2021 from Doubleday
My thanks to Doubleday for an advance copy for review
”What is wrong with you?”
Laura has spent most of her life being judged. She’s seen as hot-tempered, troubled, a loner. Some even call her dangerous.
Miriam knows that just because Laura is witnessed leaving the scene of a horrific murder with blood on her clothes, that doesn’t mean she’s a killer. Bitter experience has taught her how easy it is to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Carla is reeling from the brutal murder of her nephew. She trusts no one: good people are capable of terrible deeds. But how far will she go to find peace?
Innocent or guilty, everyone is damaged. Some are damaged enough to kill.
Look what you started.
Goodness me, if ever a book was well named this is it. A Slow Fire Burning simmers with tension. It is a fascinating, character driven murder mystery that is both engaging and thrilling.
This is a cast of characters who all have something pretty unlikable about them. These flaws though have the effect of making them more human, for who among us is not flawed in some way? Laura is moody, mouthy and unpredictable. An accident when younger has left her with both a limp and with fluctuating mood swings that can lead to intense and flaring emotions and a tendency to act before her brain engages. Her parents are absent; neither caring enough for their daughter to ensure her well-being either financially or emotionally.
Theo and Carla‘s marriage disintegrated after their very young son died in an accident while in the care of Carla’s sister. The recriminations that followed had a devastating effect on everyone involved. Angela has a drink problem which has only got worse over the years and her son, Daniel has never known what it is to have loving parents.
As the book opens, Daniel is lying on the floor of his narrowboat and Laura, covered in blood, is leaving the scene. She is spotted by Daniel’s nearest neighbour, Miriam, who makes a point of noting the comings and goings on her part of Regent’s Canal. Miriam is another damaged character. Nicknamed the hobbit by Laura, because she is small and overweight, she harbours a strong desire to expose Theo for the fraud that she believes him to have perpetrated.
It is Miriam who discovers Daniel and reports his death to the police. Thus Paula Hawkins sets the scene for a twisty and subversive thriller where there are multiple suspects and so many secrets and lies that this reader’s head was soon spinning with possibilities.
There are different elements to this book that add layers to an already interesting scenario. Theo is a writer, and extracts from his book are interspersed throughout the chapters, offering a wry smile (though not intended by Theo) to what is quite a dark and often disturbing read.
Bitterness, resentment and duplicity are the bedrock of Paula Hawkins fire, and recrimination and reprisals are what fuel the flames. Paula Hawkins writing is powerful and compelling and her plot pulsates with the impact of the ways in which a terrible event echoes down the decades.
Laura in particular is a terrific character. Prone to outbursts, damaged and fragile in so many ways, she is for all that a kind and likeable woman. She looks after Irene, an older woman who needs help with shopping and Irene becomes her friend and confidant. Irene’s neighbour Angela was Irene’s only other friend and they shared a love of psychological thrillers.
You find yourself rooting for Laura, even when the evidence is overwhelmingly against her. But beware. Paula Hawkins is a master of misdirection and she does not hesitate to play on our emotional heart strings, manipulating our emotions and exposing how ready we are to make judgments about others. Her exploration of human nature is exquisite.
Verdict: Sure to be a winner, this is a book that focuses in on the lives of five women – how they are linked, their stories and the devastating events that tie them together. Hawkins’ novel moves back and forwards in time, showing us what went before and why in particular, the experiences of these women have framed their lives and made them the damaged people that they are today. It is a dark and sometimes horrifying read but she leavens it with flashes of real wit that make you laugh out loud.
Paula Hawkins worked as a journalist for fifteen years before turning her hand to fiction. Born and brought up in Zimbabwe, Paula moved to London in 1989 and has lived there ever since. Her first thriller, The Girl on the Train, has been a global phenomenon, selling 23 million copies worldwide. Published in over forty languages, it has been a No.1 bestseller around the world and was a No.1 box office hit film starring Emily Blunt. Into the Water, her second stand-alone thriller, has also been a global No.1 bestseller, spending twenty weeks in the Sunday Times hardback fiction Top 10 bestseller list, and six weeks at No.1.