The Burning Air by Erin Kelly

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The Burning Air by Erin Kelly

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: The sort of edgy psychological thriller that makes you creep downstairs after midnight when the house is safely asleep because you're so desperate to see how it ends. Or is that just me?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: January 2013
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1444728316

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It's the Macbrides' annual Guy Fawkes' weekend trip to their Devon holiday home but much has changed since the last Bonfire Night. Their mother Lydia has died, their father Rowan copes only with alcoholic aid and the marriage of Sophie and Will has fireworks of its own. Some happiness exists though: Tara and partner Matt are deeply in love and Felix is bringing his first serious girlfriend to the gathering. Her name's Kerry and, by the end of the weekend, she'll have kidnapped Sophie's baby revealing darkest secrets that refuse to remain buried.

Neither of Erin Kelly's previous novels had prepared me for this. The Sick Rose, for instance, was indeed good, but The Burning Air just blows it out of the water. It begins deceptively as a superior kitchen sink drama teaching us about the Macbrides. The book blurb makes it sound like a kidnap novel. However it's so much more than either of these things. In fact, if you don't like family dramas and kidnap stories leave you cold, I would still implore you to read it. (Yep, that good!)

Firstly I apologise for what I'm about to do: skirt around the edges of the novel like a hydrophobic at a swimming bath. The full impact of the story is so deep and shocking that I'd like you to start it with as few preconceptions as I did and experience the full belt. The best way to achieve that is not to tell you too much, so even discussion about the structure or characters is out apart from saying it's all extremely clever.

So what can I say? The writing is exemplary. We start at almost 'soap opera' level and are then dragged in deeper and deeper till all our emotions are engaged. The revelations gradually start, weaving a complex (but always understandable) web of history and hurt. The more you read the more you realise this book was probably written backwards in order to provide so many 'Aaah!' moments as things make sense post-event. The twists are scattered throughout, not finishing till the story does and ranging in intensity from 'Oh!' to full literary stomach punches. I want to liken this to another piece of writing so you know what I mean but it'd be a giveaway.

The climax just builds and builds with elements pushing to the fore throughout. If I was a nail-biter, my elbows would have been red raw by the end. The author is indeed a cunning lady who can manipulate mood and, indeed, expectations and assumptions as we realise that we've been filling in gaps ourselves. (You'll know the bit I mean when you come to it.) She's also a bit cheeky as, in the final showdown, Erin Kelly adds something for those of us who have read The Sick Rose to increase the uncertainty. (By the way, both books are stand-alone novels that don't share the same characters so the cross-reference is a nice surprise.)

I'm sure that someone somewhere will accuse the novel of middle class stereotyping or will try to pick away seeking a plot hole but I was too close to the edge of my seat, hungrily absorbing each moment to notice either. If this was a film, it would be an Alfred Hitchcock great. That's as long as, of course, Erin Kelly was allowed to write the screenplay.

We also have a review of The Ties That Bind by Erin Kelly.

If you enjoyed this and would like another good twisty thriller, we definitely recommend Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson.

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Buy The Burning Air by Erin Kelly at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Burning Air by Erin Kelly at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Burning Air by Erin Kelly at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Burning Air by Erin Kelly at


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