‘You will be dead by Christmas.’
This dramatic declaration, uttered by eight-year-old Jamie to his new step-mother, Rachel, is pivotal to ‘The Fire Child’ and as the summer months count down to Christmas the tension and intensity of the book builds a to nail-biting finale.
From her single life in London Rachel is quickly whisked off her feet by handsome but mysterious David and soon she finds herself in the midst of his family legacy and home of Carnhallow House in Cornwall. David is a loving and kind husband but often distant from her, both emotionally and also physically as his work takes him to London. His mother, Juliet, is welcoming but the sinister looms ever closer. Whilst Rachel quickly forms an attachment to her step-son, Jamie often appears disturbed by Rachel’s presence and he is haunted by visions of his dead mother; beautiful, angelic Nina who died in an accident eighteen months earlier. Nina who now it seems is proclaiming Rachel’s imminent demise. As Rachel seeks help for the boy, she finds her sanity brought into question as the past begins to catch up with her.
Tremayne weaves a wonderfully tight story with multiple threads coursing through the writing. Who is lying? Jamie? But why? Or is it David with his deep sense of duty to keep the family legacy alive? Or even Rachel herself?
Following in Nina’s footsteps, Rachel tries to continue the excellent restoration carried out by Nina of the stunning estate which sits upon the tin tunnels dating back to the previous century. Nearby lies Morvellen Mine – the site of Nina’s death.
The emotional detachment of both David and Jamie is mirrored in the remote location of the house. The suffocating, claustrophobic atmosphere is brilliantly brought to life; Rachel’s isolation emotionally and physically is emphasised in every chapter and rendered more immediate through the first person perspective. Her loneliness is palpable and reflected in the increasingly colder climate, darker days, gloomier light.The novel is steeped with tension, spine-tingling and even though I read this on warm summer days I still felt chilly and had goosebumps. The book has many similarities with Daphne du Maurier’s chilling ‘Rebecca’ and its powerful use of pathetic fallacy evoking a sense of a dark foreboding threat, madness and even death.
Half-way through the book I felt it had reached its climax and I honestly wondered where it would go; how or even if the author could continue this crescendo of suspense. I needn’t have worried. Through the use of David’s voice in the third person interspersed with Rachel’s continued narrative the author brings the book through unimaginable twists and turns to its dramatic conclusion.
‘The Fire Child’ is a compulsive read, eerie, tense, well-crafted and cleverly plotted. I found myself walking and trying to unravel its intricacies – who was the real victim? Who was the culprit? How and why did really Nina die? My only reason for not giving this book five stars is that I never totally empathised with any of the characters. Admittedly they were fully developed and well portrayed but I hesitated in giving my heart to any one of them. That said, this is up there with the best of this year’s psychological thrillers.
Finally a thank you to S. K. Tremayne (a pseudonym for journalist Sean Thomas who also writes as Tom Knox) for the fascinating history of the 4,000-year-old tin mining industry of Cornwall, highlighting just some of its horrific and terrifying practices. The factual elements were seamlessly incorporated into this work of fiction.
A Cornish Tin Mine Ruin
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a honest and impartial review.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Publisher: HarperCollins UK
Publication Date: 16th June 2016
£ 6.00 Hardback – Amazon UK
£ 4.99 Kindle (available 28th March 2017) – Amazon UK £ 7.99 Paperback (available 9th February 2017) – Amazon UK
From $ 5.81 Hardback – Amazon US