Synopsis from Goodreads: It doesn’t look like murder in a city full of death. A pandemic called ‘The Sweats’ is sweeping the globe. London is a city in crisis. Hospitals begin to fill with the dead and dying, but Stevie Flint is convinced that the sudden death of her boyfriend Dr Simon Sharkey was not from natural causes. As roads out of London become gridlocked with people fleeing infection, Stevie’s search for Simon’s killers takes her in the opposite direction, into the depths of the dying city and a race with death.
Why did I read this book?
Louise Welsh’s debut novel, The Cutting Room, is a masterful combination of crime and literary fiction that I loved from its first page until its last. Until now none of the plots of her subsequent books have appealed to me hugely, and although I did read The Bullet Trick back in 2011 (in fact it was one of the first books I reviewed here) it left me unimpressed. A Lovely Way To Burn’s synopsis intrigued me however with its combination of murder mystery and apocalypse.
Favourite thing about the book:
The plague concept and storyline. I enjoyed watching how it played out (as much as you can enjoy these things) and thought it was well-handled in terms of the impact the illness’ spread had on individuals and society as a whole e.g. looting and rioting, the army coming in, suicides etc.. It was quietly terrifying and made me appreciate what I have all the more and reflect on how perilous human existence is (see also: Sarah Moss’ Cold Earth which I read earlier this year). For this reason alone I’ll definitely be reading the next book in the Plague Times series.
+ A Lovely Way To Burn is lead by strong female character (though almost all the other central players are men, and the one other woman who is key to the plot is only so because she is the wife of a more-important-to-the-action man).
+ Louise Welsh’s prose is enjoyable to read and generally well-written (my lack of interest towards the end notwithstanding); with some good turns of phrase (I especially liked a bit that described a toddler clinging to his mum in a way that proved Darwin’s theory of evolution as I often feel keenly aware that my own son is a baby primate!).
Least favourite thing about the book:
I quickly tired of the “murder side” of the plot. The main mystery element of the story (as solved by Iqbar) didn’t grab me or shock me like it perhaps should have and thereafter I didn’t really care what had happened to Simon (especially as the more I found out about him, the less I liked him – and he wasn’t really my type of person in the first place, all flash cars and swanky bars). At the novel’s end when the revelations/explanations are coming thick and fast I had to force myself to stay focused on what I was reading as my eyes just wanted to skip ahead to something more interesting (and preferably plague-related).
- Although I liked Stevie for being a strong, independent, female lead character I couldn’t warm to her personally. I found her shallow, reckless (as opposed to brave) and selfish (if she is indeed the only person immune to “the sweats” why does she not offer to help the authorities in finding a cure, if not the dodgy person who asks her to help him on an individual basis?)
- There were some plot inconsistencies, for example it first appeared that a small but sizeable percentage of people were able to survive the sweats but by the end pretty much everyone that came into contact with it was dead within days.
Iqbar. He was the only person in the whole book that I liked.
William, though his part is very small.
I recommend this book to:
~ Fans of apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic fiction.
~ People who distrust the medical profession.