I love a good crime book and, when I began reading The Burning Man by Solange Ritchie, I was delighted to find this is exactly what I’d been given to review – a good crime book – one in which we follow an horrific case through the eyes of both a top FBI forensic pathologist, Dr Cat Powers, and that of the perpetrator – a killer with a twisted, maniacal mind.
Basically, a series of dead women are found, all of whom have been brutally tortured. Cut with precision all over their body and with acid poured into their wounds, it’s clear these young women have suffered. But what links them and why have they particularly been targeted?
Assigned to the case, Cat is forced to leave her young son in the care of her estranged husband as, along with a group of other police and agents, she determines to hunt down the killer before he strikes again… Only, he does. Yet, it’s the victim he’s determined to add to his growing tally that makes this case suddenly very, very personal for Cat.
A driven woman, one whose intelligence, talent and hard work has taken her far in her career, Cat is nonetheless torn between the eternal binary of family versus professional life. Respected by those she works with, she is also aloof and it’s really only the reader and one or two of the men with whom she works who are given an insight into what makes her tick and her various vulnerabilities – the latter which come to the fore as the killer tries to manipulate her and those she loves.
The writing in the first two-thirds of the book is mostly very good. While there are some repetitions in terms of character motivation and even odd decisions that seem out of character for not only Cat, but the other people who populate the book – for example, Cat flies here, there and everywhere at a crucial point in the case and narrative when, surely, other options (eg. telephone, skype or relying on colleagues in situ) would have made much more sense. She also makes a really silly decision towards the climax – one that doesn’t sit with this strong and smart woman – there is a consistency to the attitudes being expressed and the processes unfolding.
Now, while I really enjoyed the first two thirds, even three-quarters of the book, something happened in the latter half that had me most perplexed. The narrative (after a silly choice by Cat) suddenly jumps all over the place. At one stage, I thought we were in the middle of a dream sequence and had to go back to ensure we were not. Sense is briefly lost and, as we build towards the climax, it’s hard to makes sense of the action – someone appears to get shot and is bleeding all over the place, then they appear to be well enough to do quite physical things. The killer and Cat are also involved in scenes that are fraught with problems in terms of logic and it was hard for this reader at least, to suspend her disbelief. I started to lose interest.
After a very promising start, the end was disappointing in terms of plot and writing. Nevertheless, I think for the most part, the book itself is quite good, though the murders were incredibly and sometimes gratuitously gruesome, there was a cracking pace set and in the lead character, Cat Powers (a name laden with symbolism) there is a strong woman with many cases left to solve.