Advanced reader copy received from the publisher via NetGalley
In A Lovely Way To Burn, Louise Welsh combines two of my favourite genres. It’s a straight-forward crime murder mystery, with a twist of dystopian, post-apocalyptic disaster, and the blend is thrilling.
A Lovely Way To Burn tells the story of Stevie, an ex-journalist turned shopping TV presenter who finds her boyfriend, surgeon Simon Sharkey, dead in his flat. Simon appears to have died due to natural causes, but a few days later, Stevie is delivered a mysterious note from her deceased partner and discovers a package; a laptop he has stowed in her attic for safekeeping. Was Simon’s death as innocent as it first appeared, or will the contents of the laptop reveal a more sinister scenario?
Whilst Stevie is pondering this, she and the rest of London are gripped by a strange new virus nicknamed the sweats. Stevie sees off the worst of her illness after just a few days in her flat, but many others aren’t so lucky. Panic and paranoia ensues as the capital is engulfed by the killer virus, for which there is no known cure.
The busy plot could sound a little like a melodrama which borders on contrived, but for me this novel really worked. Although I’ve never read any of Welsh’s previous work (despite buying The Cutting Room a while ago which I will definitely be getting round to soon), I have read many praise her literary style of writing, and I do feel that her talents shone in this novel. She captures the pandemonium of the capital city in crisis perfectly – “suddenly the hum of the machine world was fractured by shouting” – from the standstill of modern life to the inevitable riots which ensue. The action-packed story set against the vivid backdrop of London in crisis also feels like it’s calling for a movie adaptation, and I wonder if this will be on the cards in the future.
The drama is intercepted with truly dark scenes which sent a chill down my spine. At one point, Stevie visits a police station to be greeted by one elderly clerk who tells her he can’t take her statement because “Everyone here is dead.” At another, when the virus has really taken hold, Stevie is sneaking through a hospital and sees: “A mosaic of corpses”. An entire page (at least on the Kindle app on my phone) is dedicated to describing each body in a row individually, forcing the reader to consider each individual, and adding a personal touch to the faceless disease.
The protagonist, Stevie, is one of my favourite protagonists I’ve read in a crime novel in a while. She has no qualms with admitting her flaws – the shallow and superficial side which drove her to take a job which allows her to flaunt her looks – but she still has the savvy, feisty journalist in her which compels her to continue in her quest to find out the truth behind Simon’s death, even when the city is falling apart around her.
This novel is the first in a trilogy, and it can be annoying when the first novel in a series leaves too many questions unanswered. However, with this book Welsh strikes the ideal balance; the mystery is tied up nicely but she leaves enough intrigue that I am eagerly anticipating the next instalment.