The Burning Air
Erin Kelly
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Buy *The Burning Air* by Erin Kellyonline

The Burning Air
Erin Kelly
336 pages
February 2014
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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In The Burning Air, British suspense writer Erin Kelly reminds us of her unique talent. The author recounts a young man’s quest for revenge against a landscape of the English class system in a story that seethes with the energy of its characters. Kelly writes in the tough, no-nonsense style of Peter Robinson, combining an ominous setting with a stolen scholarship that turns into a campaign of persecution from the fabrication of a paranoid and disintegrating mind.

Family matriarch Lydia McBride is dying. The confession within her series of diaries could shatter the public reputation of her closeknit family. Among the dozens of volumes, one diary in particular records everything from Lydia’s marriage to her decorated career as a magistrate. Compelled to write despite the risk of discovery, Lydia’s strange confession drives the actions of Owen MacBride, who as the novel opens is striving to keep his wife’s secret from his grown children Sophie, Tara and Felix.

From the MacBrides' beautiful Cathedral Close home to Far Barn, the seat of their holiday home in Devon, this family’s journey is paved with doubt and fear. Coming together for a weekend to scatter Lydia’s ashes at first seems like a good idea, the first real test of the fragile truce that exists with Sophie’s marriage to Will. But the nearer it comes, the clearer it is that time and history and place will be individually weighted with a deadly new significance.

The siblings must cope with their drunken father, the sole custodian of Sophie’s bruised values. Then the annual bonfire night and the family’s visit to the Ottery St. Mary Carnival are obscured by the sudden abduction of Edie, Sophie’s baby daughter, who had been placed in the care of Felix’s gorgeous new girlfriend, naive, shy Kerry. “[A]ll eyes and cheekbones of a cover girl,” her incipient beauty not only ridicules Felix’s boyhood disfigurement. It also ends up making the weekend's tension even more palpable.

Despite the family’s energy and solidarity, the MacBrides are persistently at odds with one another. Different realities present themselves: Sophie’s breakdown, Will’s infidelity, Owen’s drinking, Kelly’s offer to babysit, then the kidnapping of Edie, innocent words giving new meaning to the terrible circumstances. Clearly the MacBrides are deluding themselves, even as they learn of the existence of arch-nemesis Darcy Kellaway, who might be an unhinged kidnapper, an impersonator, and in all likelihood mentally ill.

Kelly’s genius is in portraying Darcy as the Machiavellian exploiter of circumstances unfolding his plot against the MacBrides. Somewhere in the house at Cathedral Close is evidence of the corruption that has derailed the life Darcy was destined to lead. His efforts to obtain this evidence are so deceitful that the reader is often trapped between respect and real hatred for him. Homeschooled by a single mother intolerant of vanity, Darcy is aware of the chasm gaping between the MacBrides' privilege and his own disadvantage, leading him to harden his heart toward the man who wrote the letter that ruined his life.

Kelly unlocks Darcy's quest for revenge, internalizing his obsessive mind, leaving us shocked at the revelations at Far Barn and the ramifications of Lydia’s oversensitive conscience. Fraudulent to the last, the MacBrides gravitate between despair and hope, recriminating themselves in a relationship that plays out for the highest rewards, a cat-and-mouse game of duplicity and retaliation that leaves the reader breathless.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2013

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