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THE BURNING AIR
by Erin Kelly
Hodder & Stoughton, January 2013
388 pages
16.99 GBP
ISBN: 1444728318


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The McBride family is still reeling from the death of Lydia, their benevolent matriarch who waited long enough for her eldest daughter Sophie to have her baby before quietly slipping away in hospital. Her husband, Rowan, a retired headmaster of the Cathedral School in Saxby, is distraught and when Sophie, her husband Will and their boys arrive at the family holiday home in Devon, they find him drunk and incapable, clearly not coping with the loss of his wife.

Tensions had already been running high in the family. Sophie, who suffered from severe post-natal depression after the birth of her last son, has been estranged from her husband since she received evidence of his infidelity in shape of an anonymous package of photographs showing him in a compromising position with another woman. But for the sake of her children, Sophie has kept up an outward show of togetherness with Will. Her younger sister Tara and her boyfriend Matt arrive as well, as does Felix, the youngest of the three McBride siblings. To everyone's surprise, Felix has brought a girlfriend with him, the ethereally beautiful and extremely uncommunicative Kerry, who only adds to the seething mass of tension in a family almost at breaking point.

On Bonfire night, Sophie is persuaded to allow Kerry to babysit her youngest child Edie, born on the night of her mother's death, but when Sophie returns early to the cottage after her young son Charlie is frightened by the fires, Kerry has vanished, taking the baby with her.

The loss of any child is always a strong hook on which to hang a book and THE BURNING AIR is no exception to this rule. It therefore comes as something of an unwelcome surprise to discover that much of the book will be given over to the lengthy back story of a character who clearly has no reason to love the clannish MacBrides and in particular Lydia, a local magistrate and woman of apparently unswerving principle, although this is in fact undermined by a prologue that makes it abundantly clear she is harboring a dark secret, the staple fare of most family-oriented psychological thrillers. This early giveaway is one of the reasons for my almost universal dislike of prologues, and this book does nothing to change that.

I was also confused, possibly intentionally by the author, during the middle section as to the sex of the narrator, and a name that could belong to either a girl of a boy did not help. Whether this was an intended red herring, or my simply misinterpreting the name is not clear, but it certainly came as a surprise when I discovered my mistake.

It took a while for the two narratives to collide at the moment of the abduction, and by then the readers are privy to the identity of the person who is out to destroy the lives of the MacBrides before they become aware of this. There are elements of the denouement that I found hard to suspend disbelief for, but that aside, Erin Kelly weaves a compulsive and readable tale of obsession bordering on madness, and it is easy to overlook any faults in the narrative and simply become wrapped up in the story of a family taken to the brink and then pushed sharply over the edge. Kelly writes with style, and the final twist was one that I certainly didn't see coming.

Linda Wilson is a writer, and retired solicitor, with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, January 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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