From its opening scene, in which a teenage girl overhears her stepfather's creepy confessions, to its terrifying conclusion in a deserted mine shaft, Tim Wynne-Jones's The Boy in the Burning House has the magnetic energy of a well-crafted made-for-television thriller, without pausing for commercial breaks. Like the best of the TV thrillers, The Boy in the Burning House features a smiling, unredeemable villain: Father Fisher, who leads the Church of the Blessed Transfiguration in a remote farming community.
Fourteen-year-old Jim Hawkins's father, Hub, has disappeared, and Ruth Rose, the pastor's stepdaughter, tries to convince him that Fisher killed Hub. If that possibility isn't unsavory enough, Jim discovers that his dad and Fisher were both involved in a fire that killed another teenage boy 30 years before. It is the unraveling of this long-hidden mystery that gives The Boy in the Burning House its page-turning edginess. As Jim investigates his father's past, his memories of a gentle and morally upright father are twisted out of shape. "He felt like he was burning up," Wynne-Jones writes, "and there was a boy inside him hammering to get out into the air."
As the novel roars towards its conclusion, some of its psychological richness and narrative consistency are sacrificed to fast-paced action sequences. Fisher's midnight stalking of Jim and Ruth Rose is as terrifying as Jack Nicholson's frenzied house crawl in The Shining, but Wynne-Jones never fully explains how Fisher became a monster. The Boy in the Burning House is a great read, but one that starts to wobble like a house of cards once the thrills are over. --Lisa Alward [via]