Author: Krysten Ritter
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Fiction
Publication Date: November 7, 2017
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️🌟 (3.75 stars)
Should you ever go back?
It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.
But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.
Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as Abby tries to find out what really happened to Kaycee, she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game,” which will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.
With tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote, rural town of just five claustrophobic miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of the question: can you ever outrun your past?
Maybe all along this is what my future held – what I tried so hard to escape, and what, ultimately, is inescapable. Time isn’t a line, but a corkscrew, and the harder I’ve pushed, the more I’ve drilled back into the past. “I’m going home.”
I was so pleasantly surprised by this book! Bonfire is Krysten Ritter’s debut novel, and it’s a solid one. I’ll admit that it was her name that drew me in at first, coupled with my intrigue that she was settling into the mystery/thriller genre, but then I read the synopsis and realized Bonfire was right up my alley.
I’m a sucker for plots where some horrible event in the main character’s past comes out of the woodwork and forces them to face their demons in the present. Ritter certainly provides with Abby Williams, our protagonist who has escaped the clutches of small town life and high school bullies to become a successful environmental lawyer. She always swore to herself that she’d never return, but that was before new complaints against a local corporation give her the opportunity to revisit the mysteries buried deep in her past. Optimal Plastics may have revived Barrens, Indiana, all those years ago and kept it afloat since – but at what costs?
Abby is a complex and interesting character. She’s a force to be reckoned with, stubborn and willing to fight for what she wants, but there’s still a paranoia and a bitter vulnerability that’s simmered inside her since her teenage years, no matter how hard she’s tried to shed the insecurities that plagued her during high school. Intriguingly, it’s that weaker side of her that sometimes calls her reliability as a narrator into question. I didn’t always agree with the decisions that she made, but I felt like I at least understood where she was coming from.
Ritter does a great job bringing to life the claustrophobic nature of a single stoplight town. Abby can’t walk through Barrens without seeing scenes from her memory played out like a thin film over the present, and it casts a somber, haunting pallor over the whole novel. She struggles reconciling the people she meets now with their high school counterparts she left behind a decade ago, especially when it seems that history might be repeating itself in the cruelest of ways in modern-day Barrens. I love Ritter’s writing style – it’s atmospheric, evocative, and a joy to read.
Bonfire does have its weaknesses. The storyline felt disjointed in places, trying too hard to keep the on-the-books investigation of Optimal Plastics separate from Abby’s insistence on tackling it from her biased angle. I was bummed that her lone wolf approach came at the cost of getting to know the people on her investigative team – they seemed like they would have been a fun cast of characters. I also found parts of the ending to be rather easy to predict, and the parts that weren’t felt like they’d become overly convoluted in an attempt to connect the dots.
Overall, though, I was impressed by Ritter’s debut work. I loved her atmospheric writing style and the complicated (and at times messy) main character to whom she handed the reins. Fingers crossed she’ll be writing more in the future; I’ll be looking forward to it.
Brb gonna go watch Jessica Jones now 🙂