TW Sexual exploitation/revenge porn
It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all 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 economic heart, she begins to find strange connections to a decade-old scandal involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her friends – just before Kaycee disappeared for good.
As Abby tried desperately to find out what happened to Kaycee, troubling memories begin to resurface and she starts to doubt her own observations. And when she unearths an even more disturbing secret, her search threatens the reputations, and lives, of the community, and risks exposing a darkness that may consume her.
With tantalising twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote, rural town of five claustrophobic miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of what can happen when your past and present collide.
Bonfire by Krysten Ritter – actor, writer, dog owner and knitter extraordinaire – is a hair-raising, sickening, intriguing, dark and compulsively readable thriller. Consumed with corporate crime, sexual exploitation, abuse and cover ups, it makes for a deeply unsettling and memorable debut. While I was reading it I found myself thinking… So Krysten gets to be good at everything? The worst part is I couldn’t even resent her for it. I was enjoying myself too much.
There is a lot to unpick in Bonfire. The mystery is enthralling and wide ranging. Our MC, Abby’s home town of Barrens is all but owned by a plastics corporation called Optimal. Though Abby left Barrens when she graduated high school and vowed never to return, the spectre of the place and, particularly, the ominous role that Optimal played within it had never truly released its grip on her. During her final year of high school, three girls in her class got sick. It started with the school’s it girl – and Abby’s primary tormentor – Kaycee Mitchell one day collapsing and having a seizure during a school assembly. Then the sickness spread through all of her friends. After a few weeks of fear and madness the girls all said they were faking, and shortly after that, Kaycee Mitchell disappeared for good. But Abby saw Kaycee’s sickness, and she never bought the idea that it could possibly be a lie. Abby’s theory was always that the sickness that overtook her high school was connected to Optimal somehow, and ten years later, she’s finally come home to prove it.
Unsurprisingly, this turns out to be easier said than done. Optimal has infiltrated the lifeblood of the town, not only providing the main source of employment, but funding for local schools and infrastructure. It’s hard to find anyone to speak against the company, and impossible to coax anyone to speak about what happened to Kaycee Mitchell all those years ago. The town only wants to forget – but Abby Williams refuses to let them.
One determined woman against a for-sure evil corporation determined to uncover the truth about a years old mystery by itself would have had me sold, but Bonfire, as it turns out, is about a lot more than that.
Abby’s relationship with Barrens is a complicated one. She was severely bullied throughout high school, and the torment didn’t end when she went home. Her conservative Christian father only brought violence and shame into her life, and his behaviour worsened after her mother passed away at the end of a lengthy and gruelling battle with cancer. Her childhood and teen years were characterised by loneliness, anger and grief and hard as she has tried – she has built a successful life as a lawyer in Chicago – she has been unable to let go of any of those feelings. Throughout the course of the novel they take over completely and ultimately they fuel her quest for the truth. Who could be more determined to uplift the voiceless than someone who spent years trapped herself?
There really is nothing better than wrapping up warm on a cold winter night, pouring yourself a cup of tea – or wine, depending on your inclinations – and immersing yourself in a thriller. I can think of none better than the claustrophobic, intriguing and disquieting world Ritter has created.