Jennifer McMahon’s newest novel, Burntown, is the first of her novels I have read. She is a known mystery writer who I had always meant to read, but hadn’t. (The Winter People is on my TBR list!) I was graciously granted the opportunity to read this novel through NetGalley. I requested it purely based on the author and my wish to read her work. I had no other expectations going into it so you could say I was confused once I started reading. This is different.
The publisher’s summary:
Ashford, Vermont might look like your typical sleepy New England college town, but to the shadowy residents who live among the remains of its abandoned mills and factories, it’s known as “Burntown.”
Eva Sandeski, known as “Necco” on the street, has been a part of this underworld for years, ever since the night her father Miles drowned in a flood that left her and her mother Lily homeless. A respected professor, Miles was also an inventor of fantastic machines, including one so secret that the plans were said to have been stolen from Thomas Edison’s workshop. According to Lily, it’s this machine that got Miles murdered.
Necco has always written off this claim as the fevered imaginings of a woman consumed by grief. But when Lily dies under mysterious circumstances, and Necco’s boyfriend is murdered, she’s convinced her mother was telling the truth. Now, on the run from the man called “Snake Eyes,” Necco must rely on other Burntown outsiders to survive.
There are the “fire eaters,” mystical women living off the grid in a campsite on the river’s edge, practicing a kind of soothsaying inspired by powerful herbs called “the devil’s snuff”; there’s Theo, a high school senior who is scrambling to repay the money she owes a dangerous man; and then there’s Pru, the cafeteria lady with a secret life.
As the lives of these misfits intersect, and as the killer from the Sandeski family’s past draws ever closer, a story of edge-of-your-seat suspense begins to unfurl with classic Jennifer McMahon twists and surprises.
So. Yeah. A lot of things to process. I wasn’t sure what to make of this one.
When I read a mystery I expect a certain pattern; you introduce your characters and the plot and then provide clues along the way to keep the reader engaged. This story spent a lot of time on character development before getting into the action. Not to mention one of the main heroes isn’t introduced until the middle of the story. There were some suspenseful moments leading to the climax that I enjoyed. By the end, I was engaged and surprised, so I think all the elements of a proper mystery were there but maybe it’s just a unique style I am not used to.
I thought the depiction of mental illness and homelessness was done well; although, I have to admit, I didn’t realize Lily had a mental illness right away. I think that had to do with the fact that I was so focused on trying to figure out the plot that I missed important cues understanding the characters.
I’m not a fan of the supernatural, but I didn’t mind it being in this story. I thought it lent a good thrill factor. I think she could have added even more of that and it would have added to the mystery!
All in all, I enjoyed the book. I will definitely read her other work. Now that I’m familiar with her style, I will be prepared for a little crazy. (That’s not a bad thing!)
Goodreads rating: 4 out of 5 stars