Acclaimed author Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train, Into the Water) returns with yet another nail-biting thriller. A Slow Fire Burning follows a cast of characters living along the Regent’s Canal in Shoreditch; each of them inextricably linked through events of the last few decades. The murder of Daniel Sutherland inside his canal boat becomes a catalyst for shocking, life-altering revelations.
During the first quarter of the book, I found myself flipping back and rereading some passages to help absorb information —characters are introduced in quick succession, and it was overwhelming at first. That being said, the illustrated map at the beginning of the book is immensely helpful in understanding who is who, and where they live in relation to the canal.
Hawkins masterfully breadcrumbs information throughout the story, choosing to focus on the characters and their personal lives rather than Daniel’s death. This book is character driven rather than plot-heavy; however it doesn’t feel bogged down by the intense focus on characterisation. Each cast member is fleshed-out and doesn’t feel sacrificed in terms of dimension for the sake of the plot. Each thread of information is woven into a compelling, intense tapestry that ends with a shocking twist. All I wanted to do by the end was talk to someone else about what I had just read!
Some chapters are broken up by excerpts from a (fictional) book titled The One that Got Away. Whilst compelling, I simply found myself not as interested in these snippets, instead wanting to get back to the main plot. Admittedly, once the plot twist is introduced, it does becomes clear why these excerpts were so instrumental. I really admired the attention to detail given in this aspect.
I found the inclusion of so many characters an interesting take on the unreliable narrator trope. Many versions of events (not just Daniel’s murder) are presented and the reader is left questioning who is telling the truth. This trope is one I enjoy in thrillers, and Hawkins has a knack for capturing it in a compelling manner. The Girl on the Train, for examples, is a prime example.
If you are a fan of slow-burn thrillers with a focus on character study, I highly recommend this book. The captivating plot is one you could read in one sitting, immersing yourself in the dramatic lives of the detailed characters. Hawkins seemingly goes from strength to strength with each new release. And, it is clear she has cemented herself as a heavyweight in the thriller market.