February 15, 2016

Angels Burning - Tawni O'Dell

Gallery Books, January 5, 2016.


Four Stars


Angels Burning is a fast-paced literary thriller about the murder of a teenage girl in a small town, and the police chief who must investigate a crime that has strange parallels to her own childhood. Dove Carnahan, the chief of police in rural Pennsylvania, has some dark secrets that are suddenly beginning to resurface from her past, in the form of her estranged brother and his young son, as well as a newly released convict with ties to Dove’s deceased mother. While she deals with the emotional upheaval that these men bring with them, Dove also manages to focus on finding young Camio’s killer.


I loved that Dove was not the traditional crime-fighting hero. She is middle-aged, slightly overweight, and laments her need for reading glasses – and she is unselfconscious about all of her flaws. She comes across as realistic and relatable, not just physically, but also in the way she processes her thoughts and feelings. Dove has kept her secret (revealed late in the novel) since the age of sixteen, which is perhaps why she relates so easily to Camio, the teenage victim, as well as empathizing with the young suspects involved in the case.


The murder plot itself is nothing really new, yet it is told in such a fresh new way. Dove’s sassy attitude is conveyed in her dark, clever humour which shines through even the small details of this novel. As she investigates the murder, she is reminded of her own story, and of the lengths people will go to escape the fate established by their upbringing.


While Dove works with another detective who is also an occasional love interest, she always puts herself and her family first. Her family life is often dysfunctional, yet there is a lot of love buried deeply. I was impressed that the romance did not become central to the story, and that Dove remained strong and independent throughout. She is certainly portrayed as a powerful female role model within her community, and it’s nice to see this written so matter-of-factly, with an older woman in a position of power.


I found the details of the various crimes to be realistic without any over the top gore. There were several twists to keep the reader guessing and move the plot along rapidly. The humour was fantastic as well, and often surprising. The real strength of the novel, however, is the strong development of the characters. Dove seems so realistic and her narration is seamless. Additionally, the varied cast of minor characters were believable and well done. The only weakness in my opinion was Lucky, a man from Dove’s past, who came across as a bit of a cliché, and his tangential story line seemed irrelevant in the end.


Overall, I really enjoyed this and would recommend it whether you are a reader of literary fiction or mystery/thriller genres – there is a bit of something for everyone. I haven’t read O’Dell since her earlier novel, Back Roads, but I will now be seeking out more of her work.

I received this novel from Netgalley and Gallery Books in exchange for an honest review.

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