The Last Thing to Burn is not Will Dean’s first novel, but it is likely to be the book that breaks him out to a wider, worldwide audience. This is the type of book that shakes readers to the core and becomes a touchstone reference in the years that follow.
Jane – not her real name – fled Vietnam with her sister in the hopes of a better life in the United Kingdom. Instead, what she found was captivity. Held prisoner on an isolated farm, Jane clings to what memoires and mementos she has from her previous life in order to survive; but when she discovers that she is pregnant, she knows that nothing will stop her from keeping her baby safe from this monster who terrorizes her. When another woman joins the “household,” Jane must make a choice: is the survival of her child worth condemning another woman to a life of abuse?
The Last Thing to Burn works because Will Dean takes a very risky chance with the narrative – the reader spends the entire novel in Jane’s mind, seeing everything from her perspective. Many writers explore points-of-view tactics from a different gender and while making that feel authentic is often challenging, skilled authors make this look easy. In The Last Thing to Burn, however, Will Dean goes one step further, embodying the soul and mind of Jane in a way that is not often witnessed – even in cases where authors are writing POVs that match their gender. Not only does Dean do this himself, but he brings the reader along with him to such a level that Jane/Reader almost merge and it becomes like our very safety is at risk.
This may sound like The Last Thing to Burn is a depressing and unpleasant read – and in some ways, it is – but Will Dean’s use of beautiful language counterbalances the ugliness of the story. Empathizing with Jane at this level makes both the horrific and the heartfelt moments resonate. When her captor begins to burn her possessions one by one as punishment, readers long to rush into the pages in order to stop this man from destroying an innocent soul forever. And yet, that disconcerting feeling of being in Jane’s mind reminds us that any risks will only come with greater retribution.
The isolated confines of the farmhouse evokes a constant atmosphere of danger. Through this confined setting, Will Dean creates tension in even the littlest moments – to the point that it almost becomes unbearable for the reader. The compulsion to continue reading comes from the hope of freeing Jane from this living hell. The Last Thing to Burn culminates in a “hold your breath” conclusion that resonates long after the final page is turned.
The Last Thing to Burn is Will Dean’s American debut, but readers will be anxiously waiting his next suspense novel release. Until then, they can check out his Tuva Moodyson series which begins with the excellent Dark Pines.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.