Customer Review

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Two Different Books Happening Here, August 23, 2009
This review is from: Burn: A Novel (Hardcover)
There are two different books sandwiched together here. The first part of Burn deals with what it's like to be a wage slave, and how your life changes when your finances do. I thought that portion of the book held together very well, and was up there with some of Howard's best character building. It reminded me a little bit of scenes from a book Robards wrote a few years ago where the heroine (single parent attorney) worries about damaging the shoes she needs for work and searched for on ebay. Jenner's early actions are familiar and intriguing. Her panic when she wins the lottery rings true, and her careful fear makes sense for a woman that has barely been hanging on for as long as she can remember. She's used to being used, she's used to being unimportant. Jenner keeps herself apart from her surroundings because of long standing trust issues, and the prospect of an astonishing windfall kicks her caution into overdrive. Here the book could have continued, evolving into one about Jenner adjusting to her new circumstances and discovering the difference between 'having money' and 'society'. Instead, there's a period of adjustment where Jenner is just pissed off about taxes and moves to Palm Beach (where she doesn't fit in either) and discovers that rich people are just really nice because giving cash to charity isn't a tax write off like people think. Here I rolled my eyes almost as hard as at that 'which fork' cliche. I live in Palm Beach. I know from tax shelters and rich people. I'm not here to engage in class warfare, but it's not as simple as 'rich people are cautious, more altruistic than you think, and use crazy silverware settings'. People are people. Motivations differ and there are as many reasons for a check to get written in society as there are to drop bills in a Salvation Army Christmas bucket. So here, where Jenner was ringing so true, she begins to sound false notes.

There's a brief interlude of those false notes to establish that Jenner is no longer so insecure, nor so wary or willing to be used as she was and to introduce her frail yet utterly wealthy society friend. Said friend has caring friends and a doting father, yet all the backbone of a cotton ball. Just accept it, because from here out it's a new book and it requires realism to fall away. Suddenly it's a kidnap plot with a madman intent on killing as many people as possible and the contract work team that doesn't know what they're trying to prevent, but it might involve North Korea because they're pretty safe as bad guys these days. Also, people enjoy handing out condoms as a 'wink, wink, I know you wanna' statement to their friends. (Who DOES that? No, really, who? Have you ever had someone slip you a condom - or a handful - and tell you that you know you wanna get with your co-worker, so here's the tools you need to get busy? Like, EVER?) The book resets, establishing all the players of what looks to turn into a series. Jenner resets as a savvy and (still careful) dynamic woman with strong survival skills and an ability to analyze people instantly. Her old life is far behind her and won't be returning, so don't look for any of those characters. Now, as a suspense novel, the book is equally solid, if not entirely suspenseful. It's time to get to know the people on the ship so we will care about them and what happens (or doesn't) to them. It would be time to figure out what Mr. McBaddie has going on, but he's a talker so the reader knows what's coming far in advance of the team. What could be the suspenseful and gripping part of this second novel unfolds in just a handful of pages.

Either book, written as the entire story, could have made a great read. Sandwiched together as they are without much to connect them, it's harder to love. Better than the last, enjoyable enough, but not a must read. Myself, I give the book extra credit for being willing fudge on the Happy Ending aspect but have to short it for not following up on the interesting set up of living with Sudden Money.
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