Home > Book Review > Book Review- “Bonfire” by Krysten Ritter

Book Review- “Bonfire” by Krysten Ritter

BonfireKrysten Ritter has been involved with three of my favorite crime shows of all time: “Veronica Mars,” “Breaking Bad,” and Netflix’s adaptation of Marvel Comics “Jessica Jones.” As an actress she was part of the storytelling of those shows. She helped create a character, and she got to witness how the stories on those shows were brought to life. Now I wonder if she was taking notes because I just finished Ritter’s debut novel, “Bonfire,” and it’s a pretty great first crime novel.

In “Bonfire” Ritter takes readers to the fictional town of Barrens, Indiana. It’s a small company town full of unpleasant ghosts and personal demons for her protagonist, an environmental lawyer named Abby Williams. It’s a town Abby escaped from, but the experiences she endured as a teenager at the hands of her family and peers still haunt her. We immediately get the sense of that, but one of Ritter’s strengths as a writer is her ability to convey a sense of place.

She makes Barrens just as horrific for us readers as it is for Abby. She believably brings to life a town swimming in literal and metaphorical sickness. The former is from possible pollution and why Abby has been forced to return home, and the latter comes from the horrific corruption and secrets that took root when Abby was a teenager and have been festering for about a decade.

Abby is a very believable and damaged protagonist. She clearly has PTSD from some of the horrible things she endured as a teenager and often drinks and makesKrysten Ritter bad decisions. You understand why because Ritter allows you to experience Abby’s memories, but memory is fleeting and subjective. Ritter has fun with that as well.

We meet a number of interesting characters as Abby investigates the mysteries in Barrens like the fellow members of her legal team and some of grown up people who tormented her as a teen, but for me the most fascinating character in the book is someone Abby has returned home to find, her childhood friend turned biggest tormenter as a teen, Kaycee Mitchell. Kaycee is a mercurial and vile person, but too Ritter’s credit she’s not a cartoon. You’re given some scenes that give you insight into Kaycee’s action and even allow you to genuinely empathize with her.

Tone is another area Ritter excelled at. Abby’s investigation uncovers some truly sinister secrets about the town and some of it’s residents. So there’s also a very thrilling and palpable sense of paranoia and psychological horror.

 “Bonfire” is a great debut novel about both the damage teenagers can do to each other and the horrific secrets that can hide in small towns. The book is a kickoff to what I hope will be a second successful career for Ritter because I’m eager for both the second season of “Jessica Jones” and to see what she does next as a novelist.

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