Monday, June 6, 2016

Review: Angels Burning

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of the Oprah Book Club pick Back Roads comes this fast-paced literary thriller about a small town police chief who’s forced to dig into her own shadowy past as she investigates the murder of a teenage girl.

On the surface, Chief Dove Carnahan is a true trailblazer who would do anything to protect the rural Pennsylvanian countryside where she has lived all fifty of her years. Traditional and proud of her blue-collar sensibilities, Dove is loved by her community. But beneath her badge lies a dark and self-destructive streak, fed by a secret she has kept since she was sixteen.

When a girl is beaten to death, her body tossed down a fiery sinkhole in an abandoned coal town, Dove is faced with solving the worst crime of her law enforcement career. She identifies the girl as a daughter of the Truly family, a notoriously irascible dynasty of rednecks and petty criminals.

During her investigation, the man convicted of killing Dove’s mother years earlier is released from prison. Still proclaiming his innocence, he approaches Dove with a startling accusation and a chilling threat that forces her to face the parallels between her own family’s trauma and that of the Trulys.

With countless accolades to her credit, author Tawni O’Dell writes with the “fearless insights” (The New York Times Book Review) she brought to the page in Back Roads and One of Us. In this new, masterfully told psychological thriller, the past and present collide to reveal the extent some will go to escape their fate, and in turn, the crimes committed to push them back to where they began. -Gallery Books

I have considered myself a big fan of Tawni O'Dell's ever since I read BACK ROADS, an Oprah pick. I've continued to read her novels, and I even went to hear her speak a few years ago at BookFest  during the Central PA Arts Festival in State College. She was a terrific speaker, both funny and engaging... in case you were wondering!

Her latest novel, ANGELS BURNING, is considered a literary thriller -- right up my alley! It features a small town female police chief and takes place in a small rural Pennsylvania town. (One of the things I love about her books is that the settings are similar to where my grandparents lived!) Could this novel get any more perfect?

Well, actually it could. I thought ANGELS BURNING was excellent. I immediately fell in love with Dove Carnahan and her spunky personality, and I thought the mystery was great too. ANGELS BURNING received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, and if I gave out starred reviews, I would have given it one too!

ANGELS BURNING stars Dove, a dedicated police chief who is dedicated to her job. Murders aren't typical in Campbell's Run; however, when a teenage girl is found dead in a fiery sinkhole in an old coal mine, Dove's skills are definitely tested. She gets some "help" from the State Criminal Investigation Division who just happens to be her part-time (married) lover. The girl is identified as Camio Truly, a member of the Truly family -- a family who isn't exactly on the up and up (kind of trashy) and whose members have had many run ins with the law.

Meanwhile, Dove is also dealing with a surprise from her past. The man convicted of killing her mom when Dove was a teenager is out of prison. He was put away because of Dove and her sister's claims, but he still is claiming his innocence. He is still holding a serious grudge against Dove and even threatens her if she doesn't tell the truth.

Needless to say, Dove has a lot on her plate both professionally and personally. As she delves into the mystery surrounding this young girl's death, she finds that it brings up a lot of memories from her past, and she forced to reconcile her past with the present.

I just loved ANGELS BURNING! The characters, especially Dove, were extremely interesting; and I also enjoyed the mystery. I can honestly say that I didn't figure out the mystery, and there were quite a few surprises for me throughout the story... and especially the ending. While I did think the mystery angle of the novel was very, very good, I think I most loved the characters and how well they were developed.

Dove was so much fun... and such a memorable character for me. She was extremely complex, and I appreciated how this novel explored her troubled past and helped to explain the woman she became. The story as told in her voice, and I found it to be so genuine. Dove was a complicated woman, both in her personal life and concerning her career; however, she was also smart, tough and even funny. I adored her and the extent she would go to protect those she felt responsible for.

Another thing I really enjoyed about ANGELS BURNING was how well the author tied Dove's story to the story of the Truly family. Granted, things weren't exactly the same, but there were enough similarities in the situations with the children to affect how Dove approached her investigation. When the man who was convicted of murdering Dove's mom was released from prison, it just complicated everything even more. His claims (and even his threats) were a wake-up call of sorts for Dove, and the investigation into Camio's murder made Dove reflect on the problems she experienced during her childhood.

I found the murder mystery to be extremely interesting. The Truly family was a mess... and that's probably an understatement. As Dove began to interview them about Camio, she discovered an extremely dysfunctional family. There was jealousy, resentment, and more between the members; and it seemed like any one of them could have murdered her. It was entertaining (in a twisted way), but it was also very sad. As Dove delved further into the relations of this family, she began to discover the complexities of this family... and realize that she wasn't the only one with secrets.

ANGELS BURNING was definitely more than just a murder mystery. The characters were intriguing, but there were also some serious themes that make this novel perfect for book clubs. There is a reading guide available with twelve discussion questions as well as some ideas to enhance your next meeting. Some of the topics you might want to explore include family, secrets, truth, memory, sexism, parent/child relationships, and more!

I absolutely loved ANGELS BURNING and highly recommend it to fans of literary fiction!

Thanks to Kathy (aka Bermudaonion) for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


bermudaonion said...

I can't believe I've never read her work, knowing how much you love it. This sounds so good!

Dorothy N said...

I loved your review, so I have added Angels Burning to my list!

Karlie said...

I can't wait to read this!