Single-mother Fran returns to her sleepy hometown to care for her dying father when a devastating bush fire breaks out. A wry, bittersweet, heartbreaking disaster-noir thriller from the author of The Cry and Worst Case Scenario.
Fran hates Ash Mountain, and she thought she’d escaped. But her father is ill, and needs care. Her relationship is over, and she hates her dead-end job in the city, anyway.
She returns to her hometown to nurse her dying father, her distant teenage daughter in tow for the weekends. There, in the sleepy town of Ash Mountain, childhood memories prick at her fragile self-esteem, she falls in love for the first time, and her demanding dad tests her patience, all in the unbearable heat of an Australian summer.
As old friendships and rivalries are renewed, and new ones forged, Fran’s tumultuous home life is the least of her worries, when old crimes rear their heads and a devastating bushfire ravages the town and all of its inhabitants…
Simultaneously a warm, darkly funny portrait of small-town life – and a woman and a land in crisis – and a shocking and truly distressing account of a catastrophic event that changes things forever, Ash Mountain is a heart-breaking slice of domestic noir, and a disturbing disaster thriller that you will never forget…
When I read the blurb for Ash Mountain I had a very clear idea of what i was expecting, yet Fitzgerald had other ideas that didn’t quite fit with my own.
You assumed it was going to be the story of Fran, of her return to Ash Mountain to care for her Father, and a past that was just waiting to be cracked open and explored. Indeed that is just what happened and you knew that Fitzgerald would make it extremely interesting, but then she did something else that made this novel clearly raise its head above the norm, she threw in a bush fire, its dangers and devastation, facts that have blazed across the world this year.
She cleverly used the characters to tell their own stories but also their role in Fran’s world. Her teen daughter Vonnie, who explored her new surroundings and her sexuality, elder son Dante, a happy go lucky drifter. Others lingered on the margins, as they played their part in both Fran’s past and present.
You could sense Fran’s reluctance to return to a town that held both good and bad memories, ones that its inhabitants somehow chose not to forget. The tight knit community that knew each others business, the grudges, the bad feelings that simmered just below its surface were magnificently magnified by Fitzgerald. You could understand Fran’s trepidation, her past placed under a magnifying glass, as her choices were examined and discussed, old school friends perhaps jealous that she manged to escape.
I admired Fran’s determination to not let it grind her down, and the twinkle of hope, of falling in love lifted the descending gloom. It was the only light in a story that explored the catholic church, the ritual abuse by parish priests of young innocent children who remained oblivious, of its hold over the community. The boarders at the local school, were treated with disdain, yet remained above rebuke for their actions, the trauma of teen pregnancy and its stigma all featured.
Fitzgerald excelled at it all but it wasn’t until the impending approach of a bush fire that she notched it up another level. She skilfully mixed it with the rising tensions between the townsfolk, a storm of emotion and discovery laid on top of a devastating natural phenomon that threatened them all. Her narrative depicted the smoke, the changing colours of the sky before the noise, heat and power swept over all and you were left wondering who had survived.
The results were surprising and devastating, a town broken, it’s inhabitants decimated, Fran alone in search of her children. Fitzgerald painted such graphic images in my mind as Fran began her frantic search. You could almost see the blackness, the ash, the smell of burnt houses, even humans.
You could feel her panic and desperation, the tension unbearable until the final page.
If she found her family is for you to find out and I urge everyone to read this stark, superb novel.
I would like to thank Orenda Books for a copy of Ash Mountain to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Helen FitzGerald is the bestselling author of ten adult and young adult thrillers, including The Donor (2011) and The Cr y(2013), which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and is now a major drama for BBC1. Ash Mountain is the second title published with Orenda Books, after Worst Case Scenario. Helen worked as a criminal justice social worker for over fifteen years. She grew up in Victoria, Australia. She now lives in Glasgow with her husband.