Louise Welsh, A Lovely Way to Burn

If the world was collapsing around you, bodies accumulating, civilization and social order falling away: could you catch the killer of someone you care about, if the police and government and military were focused on the orderly winding-down of the nation in the face of a death-dealing epidemic?

In A Lovely Way to Burn, Louise Welsh does a great job of capturing both the obsessiveness of a solitary investigator, overwhelmingly focused on the details at hand, and the scope of a world undergoing seismic change. The apocalypse might be happening here, but the novel isn't about that: the apocalypse is just background. Plus there's a tertiary plot around medical malpractice and distrust of the entire medical-industrial system, if you wanted more.

I'm torn, I should say, between reading the novel straight and reading the novel's layering as itself something like commentary. Stevie Flint is so focused on the case she wants to resolve that she just doesn't commit to the enormous transformation that the whole planet is going through, and that's got to be a comment on human egotism, doesn't it?

Other reviewers seem distracted by the layered effect of the novel: some readers want more apocalypse and think the mystery a distraction, some see the mystery narrative to be weakened by the strength of Welsh's representation of the end of the world. Those readers are weak. If you're able to like two or more kinds of novels at once (end of the world, murder mystery, medical drama), then A Lovely Way to Burn should occupy you pretty intensely.


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