I’m a huge fan of Krysten Ritter’s work as an actor in Jessica Jones, and after reading Bonfire, I’m now a major fan of her as a thriller author as well. Please tell me she’ll write more thrillers like this!
Bonfire is a mystery thriller about a Chicago-based environmental lawyer who returns to her hometown to investigate a plastics manufacturing company that employs most of the residents. Abby Williams’ interest in the company isn’t so much about their current environmental impact, however, as it is their potential link to a mysterious illness that befell Kaycee Mitchell, a high school queen bee and former childhood friend, almost a decade ago. Kaycee left town immediately after graduation, and after she and her friends admitted the illness was an elaborate prank, but things never quite added up for Abby, and she’s determined to dig up the truth.
I absolutely loved this book, and devoured it in a single day. It’s tense and atmospheric, and more importantly, it’s just a really good mystery. There are enough twists and turns to keep the reveal a surprise, but I like how Ritter delves into the investigative process, so that while we’re interested in learning the truth, we’re not quite racing towards the reveal so much as enjoying the gradual unearthing of clues along the way. The mystery does take an unexpected turn, but one that fits very well within the rest of the story, even better than the original hypothesis would have.
More than a mystery, Bonfire is also a deeply emotional character study, particularly in the complex relationship between Abby and her father. She left him behind ten years ago to escape his violent temper, and returns to find him in the early stages of dementia. While she struggles against feelings of pity for him, she can’t help but soften and admit that what she feels is more than pity — it’s a kind of love that she can barely begin to face, given everything he’s put her and her mother through. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of the story, one subplot among many yet especially powerful in its restraint.
Abby’s relationships with other characters are fascinating as well, and likely relatable for many readers who’ve returned to their hometowns after a long time away. Meeting the adult versions of her high school classmates forces her to reevaluate and reconsider her memories of how they were. Was Misha, the high school queen bee’s second in command who is now the high school vice principal, really as mean-spirited as Abby remembers, or was she simply going along with Kaycee’s cruelty out of fear? She also encounters Brent, a former high school crush, and Condor, a former high school slacker whom she finds herself attracted to despite her instinct to stay away. There’s a great line where Abby realizes that the difference between Brent and Condor is that with Condor, it’s herself she doesn’t trust, and any casual romance reader can tell where the sizzle truly lies, and that there isn’t much of a love triangle here after all.
Overall, Bonfire is a fantastic mystery thriller about digging up the secrets of the past and confronting the reality of what happens when an entire town becomes dependent on a single company. It’s about corruption, exploitation and violence against women that can take its root as early as high school. I’m very much excited to see Krysten Ritter back on Netflix in season 2 of Jessica Jones, but I’m even more excited to see her continue to write mysteries, and I look forward to her next one!
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.
Bonfire will be released in Canada and the US in November 2017.