The Half-Burnt House by Alex North @writer_north @MichaelJBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 16 March 2023 from Michael Joseph
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-0241438121

My thanks to Michael Joseph for an advance copy for review

Katie Shaw always looked after her younger brother Chris – until she left him alone one carefree afternoon and he was savagely attacked. He hasn’t spoken to her since.

Now a mother, Katie vows not to repeat her mistakes. Carelessness cost her one family, and she won’t let it destroy another.

Then she receives a call from the police.

They’re investigating a particularly brutal murder, in a half-ruined house that once belonged to a notorious local serial killer. The case has thrown up many unsettling questions, but only one prime suspect: Chris.

The detective wants Katie’s help finding him, but she has only one thing on her mind: proving her brother’s innocence, and finally making up for her negligence all those years ago. But soon it becomes clear that the killer isn’t finished yet.

Which means that even as she attempts to save her old family, Katie is placing her new one in deadly peril . . .

I love a book that engages the brain as well as driving the senses. Alex North’s The Half Burnt House does that in spades. This is a book that takes some curious characters and interweaves them into a layered and unsettling story told across multiple timelines in a way that both chills and fascinates. It’s a deep dive down a rabbit hole and you’re never quite sure what’s going to be waiting for you when you emerge at the other end.

This is such a well-crafted narrative that incorporates philosophical questions with chilling atmospherics, a twisty and utterly transfixing plot and hovering over all of that, an intriguing question about whether we can ever be the masters of our destiny.

Katie Shaw was living her teenage dream. She was about to graduate. She and her long term boyfriend were discussing their future. Katie was a good daughter to loving parents until the fateful day when she decided to disobey their instructions just once. And that was when a stranger walked into her life and literally tore apart her brother’s face and with it her family’s rosy existence.

Years later, Katie has her own family; one that she protects fiercely. Never again will she be lulled into a false sense of security.  

Professor Alan Hobbes’ baby son was killed in a fire at his home. He stayed living in that house with its centre still charred and destroyed from the fire, like a permanent accusation. When Hobbes is found brutally murdered in his home, Detective Inspector Laurence Page and his partner Det. Caroline Pettifer work the case. Hobbes was a philosopher, a determinist – a man who had no truck with the idea that we have free will. He believed that everything is pre-determined; part of our DNA. So has his belief informed his death? It certainly seems that way.

North raises some complex questions in an intricately plotted novel where the chills gradually creep into your soul.

Laurence Page also investigated Katie’s brother’s attack. Chris Shaw now seems to appear on security camera footage at Hobbes house. What was he doing there and where is he now?

Katie has been feeling anxious, worried that someone is watching and following her. Her fear for her young daughter Sienna is very real, but her husband Sam is concerned that Katie is suffering from anxiety. Then her mother calls on Katie to find her brother and she is determined not to let him down again.

Laurence Page can see that Hobbes in life has been through some pretty dreadful stuff and there seems to be a link between what he has suffered and what Chris went through. Is the link back to an infamous serial killer who claimed to be able to see the future? And who is the man in the red car?

North layers his intense, challenging narrative with a sense of the paranormal. Katie’s relationship with Sam and Sienna contrasts violently with another relationship between a father and his sons and the whole is both an incredible mystery and a gruesome, bloody battle between good and evil, free will and determinism.

Verdict: I absolutely loved this intriguing, chilling and brilliant storyline that is beautifully written and so well constructed that I am in awe. Alex North can pull me down his rabbit holes any time he likes.                                  Waterstones                                     Hive Stores

Alex North was born in Leeds, where he now lives with his wife and son. He studied Philosophy at Leeds University, and prior to becoming a writer he worked there in their sociology department. The Whisper Man was a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller, and is being published in more than 30 languages.

Published by marypicken

Passionate book reader. Love all kind of books from 19th century novels to crime thrillers. My blog is predominantly crime, psychological thrillers and police procedurals with a good helping of literary fiction thrown in.

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