Single-mother Fran returns to her sleepy hometown to care for her dying father when a devastating bush fire breaks out. A wry, bittersweet, heartbreaking disaster-noir thriller from the author of The Cry and Worst Case Scenario.
Fran hates Ash Mountain, and she thought she’d escaped. But her father is ill, and needs care. Her relationship is over, and she hates her dead-end job in the city, anyway.
She returns to her hometown to nurse her dying father, her distant teenage daughter in tow for the weekends. There, in the sleepy town of Ash Mountain, childhood memories prick at her fragile self-esteem, she falls in love for the first time, and her demanding dad tests her patience, all in the unbearable heat of an Australian summer.
As old friendships and rivalries are renewed, and new ones forged, Fran’s tumultuous home life is the least of her worries, when old crimes rear their heads and a devastating bushfire ravages the town and all of its inhabitants…
Some reviews are definitely harder to write than others and this one feels like a bit of a doozy. Why? Because Ash Mountain is so complex, full of so many different themes. It is both darkly funny and utterly heart breaking. The author doesn’t hold back. She writes a book full of adrenalin filled moments that raise you up so high you can barely breath. Then later crashes you down, as you struggle to come to terms with the heart-breaking reality of such a catastrophic event.
So doing it justice is quite a scary proposition. But here goes!
When Fran returns to her childhood home to care for her frail father, she opens up memories that she would prefer to forget. As she comes to terms with past crimes and new friendships, a devastating fire threatens both her life and those of whom she cares about. Cleverly Helen Fitzgerald connects both the past and present through a dual time narrative that dovetails to a potentially devastating conclusion, as a bush fire rages through the small community of Ash Mountain. It’s all the more affecting, because you don’t know who will survive. As the tension builds, she piles on the pressure, getting you to care more and more about characters other than Fran, so turning each page becomes like a game of chance. Will those you care about survive, can you bear to read on? Of course you read on, because doing so would feel like you were abandoning the citizens of Ash Mountain! I couldn’t to that, I needed to know if Fran and the others survived the fire!
Character wise she gives us an ensemble of personalities all of whom contribute to this compelling story. Obviously Fran is the one the story revolves around, but when you take them as a group, you get an overwhelming picture of a town, riven with conflicts that boil just below the surface, but also friendships that are there to support Fran and help her come to terms with her past. Without them all, the story would have been less emotional, less poignant.
I admit I found it difficult to read in places, I stopped more than once, put it down and took a deep breath before I could carry on. Because Helen Fitzgerald asks you “What would you save…?” The answer may not be one that is easy to swallow and that’s what makes this book one of the most extraordinary that I have ever read.
I would like to thank the author and the publisher for the ARC of this novel in return for an honest review.
But why not consider ordering from your local indie bookshop.
About the author
Helen FitzGerald is the bestselling author of ten adult and young adult thrillers, including The Donor (2011) and The Cr y(2013), which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and is now a major drama for BBC1. Ash Mountain is the second title published with Orenda Books, after Worst Case Scenario. Helen worked as a criminal justice social worker for over fifteen years. She grew up in Victoria, Australia. She now lives in Glasgow with her husband.
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