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Mystery set in NORTH LONDON
1st September 2021
A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins, mystery set in North London, set on the Regent’s Canal and in Islington.
The novel opens with the murder of a young man, Daniel, found dead on a houseboat on the Regent’s Canal by the Whitmore Bridge. This is swiftly followed by introduction to a motley cast of characters, including Irene, Carla, Miriam, Theo (who has ‘beautiful bookshelves’) and the main character, Laura. I felt uncannily confused and found it hard initially to differentiate between them.
Laura is a young woman who has had her unfair share of blows in life. She had a terrible accident when she was younger, leaving her psychological and physically affected and she is the go-to person when anything untoward/criminal happens. She did stab a man in the hand with a fork which makes her a natural, prime suspect in the killing of the young, man on the barge – she had stayed over with him before his body was found. Daniel’s sleuthing neighbour, Miriam (and goodness, she could be played by actress Miriam Margolyes!), picks up a key at the scene of the crime, covered in blood, which happens to belong to Laura and could of course further incriminate her; the habit of taking mementoes is something neighbour Miriam can’t shake. In fact, there is a lot of light fingered kleptomania going on throughout the novel, with Laura a prime indulger in the habit.
There are backstories with a full range of ‘issues’ like kidnapping, further murder and death, alcoholism, dementia, affairs, inappropriate encounters, really crap parenting, and it seems that one naughty character has misappropriated one of the other character’s histories and turned it into a novel, penned under a pseudonym. To be honest, there isn’t a redeeming person among them and there is so much seething anger being lobbed about, which proves ultimately quite wearing.
Anyway, a fair few characters come into the frame for the murder, there are grudges aplenty within this loose knit community brought together by the author, and ultimately the novel gets into its stride. There are a few red herrings popping up in and around the aquatic setting, as secrets unfurl and encounters take place, and there are moral conundrums to ponder, both for the reader and for the characters.
The author is not averse to entertaining her readers by playing with irony and whimsy (given the plot and structure of the book). Theo Myerson’s wife muses on his latest novel: “All the to-ing and fro-ing, all that jumping around in the timeline. Like the last one… just start at the beginning, for god’s sake. Why couldn’t people just tell a story straight any longer, from start to finish”.
It is recognisably very ‘North London’ and there is even a recognisable appearance of what can assumed to be London Book Barge (Word on the Water – and by the way, do read our #BehindTheScenes with Word on the Water).
I listened to this as an audiobook and it is truly worth it for the dulcet tones of the narrator, Rosamund Pike. The author really can write so very well but the storytelling for me didn’t fully come together. I enjoyed it but it felt a little monochrome at times, which is odd given the title.
Tina for the TripFiction Team
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