“Of course it was love for my children, love for my son, that caused me to act as I did. It was a lapse of judgement. If I could have foreseen the rippling aftershocks that followed I would have acted differently, but by the time I realised the extent of the consequences, it was too late”. The MacBrides have always gone to Far Barn in Devon for Bonfire Night, but this year everything is different. Lydia, the matriarch, is dead; Sophie, the eldest daughter, is desperately trying to repair a crumbling marriage; and Felix, the youngest of the family, has brought a girlfriend with him for the first time. The girl, Kerry, seems odd in a way nobody can quite put their finger on – but when they leave her looking after Sophie’s baby daughter, and return to find both Kerry and the baby gone, they are forced to ask themselves if they have allowed a cuckoo into their nest . . .
A taut and suspenseful tale that will keep you hooked from the outset, ‘The Burning Air’ is the latest psychological thriller from Erin Kelly (‘The Poison Tree’, ‘The Sick Rose’). Revolving around the MacBride family, Kelly weaves a story full of surprises and reveals, that consistently wrongfoot the reader, as the sins of the past come knocking at the door…
I am not going to dwell on the plot too much as that would entirely spoil the cleverly placed reveals that drive the central narrative. As a family gathers to mark the death of their mother and tensions are revealed within their relationships, Kelly then skilfully takes us back to the seemingly inocuous events of seventeen years previously, and how the desire for retribution for these aforementioned events, burns strongly in the psyche of a disturbed individual with devastating results. By using this parallel timeline and overlapping narratives and viewpoints of the MacBride family members, Kelly twists our perceptions of each character and it quickly becomes obvious that someone within the group is not all that they appear to be and there are dark surprises in store. This plot device works exceptionally well, and personally I found that it was very difficult to put the book down because as each individual narrative came into play a little more of the story unfolded, driving me on to discover just what was going to happen.
With the contrasting characters of the resolutely middle class family members, interesting tensions arose, particularly amongst the siblings and their partners, all under the stoical gaze of the patriarchal figure of Rowan MacBride who himself discovers some unpleasant truths about his late wife as the story progresses. All the characters are exceptionally well drawn and believable, from the interactions between parents and children, be they young or adult, and the different dimensions to the interplay between the MacBride siblings, Sophie, Tara and the unfortunate Felix. Without a doubt, the most intriguing and mesmeric character is Darcy, whose own personal experience and perceived slights by the MacBrides, is the most complex character to understand, and cleverly your sense of empathy to and disgust towards waxes and wanes as the plot develops. From Darcy’s unfortunate and frankly bizarre upbringing, Kelly consistently manipulates our feelings towards this character and their desire for revenge, whilst highlighting Darcy’s intelligence in the way that this seeking of retribution is planned and carried out. Darcy much put me in mind of one of the quintessential dark, disturbed characters of Ruth Rendell’s psychological thrillers, namely an individual utterly in the power of a controlling parent and highlighting the dangers of misguided nurture over nature.
As with ‘The Poison Tree’ that successfully made the leap from page to screen in a TV dramatisation, I think that ‘The Burning Air’ could achieve the same. Kelly carefully renders the sense of place and location throughout the book as the action circles between the town of Saxby, during the MacBride children’s formative years, and then to the rural setting of Far Barn in Devon and the sense of isolation that plays such an important role in the book as the tension and danger mount. This description of setting along with the nifty plotting and solid characterisation all added to my overall enjoyment of the book, and if you enjoy a dark, psychological tale with a clever surprise or two, this is definitely worth seeking out.
Read another review of ‘The Burning Air’ at The Bookbag.co.uk: http://tinyurl.com/bdxqexb
Erin Kelly was born in London in 1976 and grew up in Essex. She read English at Warwick University and has been working as a journalist since 1998. She has written for newspapers including the The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Express and magazines including Red, Psychologies, Marie Claire, Elle and Cosmopolitan. Find out more here:http://www.erinkelly.co.uk/