Review: Things We Set on Fire by Deborah Reed

Editorial Note: If this review is poorly written, it’s because I am still in mourning from the David Price trade.

Things We Set on Fire by Deborah Reed (who also writes crime fiction under the pen name Audrey Braun) is a story about mistakes and secrets, and the people who make and keep them. The book opens with a brief prelude that establishes the backstory. Vivvie — wife of Jackson, mother of Elin and Kate — stages her husband’s murder to look like a hunting accident.

The story then fast-forwards twenty-some years. Vivvie, apparently never caught for the murder, receives a call from the hospital. Kate, whom Vivvie has not seen for six year, is in the hospital from an apparent suicide attempt. Vivvie is needed to watch over Kate’s two daughters, Vivvie’s granddaughters. Vivvie calls Elin, who has escaped to Oregon, for assistance, and the dysfunctional family is back together to work out — or not work out — their issues. As they do so, Reed also weaves in stories from between Jackson’s death and Kate’s suicide attempt to flesh out how these women became the people they are.

Such is the plot. If it sounds a bit Lifetime Movie-ish, well, that’s because it is at first. But Reed does move the story forward in some unexpected ways that I won’t spoil here. She also keeps the melodrama at bay with some solid character development. None of the three women are stock characters or plot devices. We feel sympathy for and root for each of these severely flawed people. In the end, we learn along with them that no only do choices have consequences, they also lead to more choices and the opportunity to choose better.

On the down side, the supporting characters could have used some more of the same care as the main characters. Wink, Vivvie’s neighbor and friend, felt very much like a prop. And the ending did drag a bit. I think it would have been a better story if it ended a few chapters sooner. More ambiguity, less tying everything up in a bow.

Overall, I’d give it a qualified thumbs up. It won’t keep you up reading late into the night, but it will keep your attention. And if you enjoy a book with “all the feels,” you could do a lot worse.


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