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Set the Night on Fire Paperback – November, 2010
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Decades-old student protests come back to haunt young people who shared an apartment in Chicago in the late 1960s. Dar Gantner has just been released from prison after 40 years for participating in the 1970 bombing of a Chicago department store in which three people died—among them his lover, Alix Kerr, daughter of the store owner. Now it seems his four remaining former housemates are in peril. When two of them, including Casey Hilliard, die in staged accidents within weeks, Dar suspects Ted Markham, who took part in the bombing but wasn’t charged and is now a U.S. senator running for the presidency. When atttempts are made on the life of Casey’s daughter and remaining heir, Lila, Dar has a compelling reason to protect her. Long-held secrets are revealed, as characters scramble for their lives. But what seems all too obvious to readers about the source of danger doesn’t occur to the characters until the eleventh hour. Hellmann, author of the Ellie Foreman and Georgia Davis mystery series, provides a colorful view of youthful antiestablishment activity in the 1960s, but her first stand-alone comes up short on suspense. --Michele Leber
"A tremendous book - sweeping but intimate, elegiac but urgent, subtle but intense. This story really does set the night on fire." --Lee Child
"A brilliantly-paced thriller, transitioning seamlessly from modern-day Chicago to the late '60s. First-rate characterization...Best to start early in the day, as it is easy to stay up all night reading it." --Foreword Magazine
"RT Top Pick for December: "Electric... a marvelous novel."
--RT Book Reviews
"Set the Night on Fire is a compelling story of love, truth and redemption. This will be a break-out novel for this talented writer. Highly recommended." --Sheldon Siegel, NYTImes bestselling author of Perfect Alibi
"A top-rate thriller that taps into the antiwar protests of the 1960s... A jazzy fusion of past and present, Hellman's insightful, politically charged whodunit explores a fascinating period in American history."
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Top Customer Reviews
Libby Fischer Hellmann has done it again. SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE is a compelling story of old friends, old causes, old secrets. Told in two voices, today's and yesterday's, this thriller will keep you turning the page until all is revealed.
One of the most interesting things I found here is Ms Hellmann's writing style changed between the present day story and the back story. At first it bothered me, but the more I thought about it, the more brilliant it became.
If you're under 45 you will enjoy learning about the attitudes of the country in the late 60's. If you're older you will find yourself nostalgic for your younger passions.
Lila Hilliard is on the run. Her father and brother have just died in a mysterious house fire and now someone is trying to kill her. Her problem is that she has no idea who is chasing her, or why. What she does know is that she is still alive only because her would-be assassin is not very good at his job - so far - and that she seems to have acquired a human guardian angel somewhere along the way. And when that guardian angel steps forward to identify himself, Lila learns things about herself and her father that turn her life upside down.
She learns that her parents, along with a few thousand other college students and college drop-outs, came to Chicago in 1968 to protest the Viet Nam War at the Democratic National Convention being held there. Unfortunately for Lila, her parents became involved with a small group of domestic terrorists willing to use bombs to make their point. Innocent people were killed, arrests were made, and people went to prison - her father, among them. Now someone wants to kill anyone even remotely connected to that group of friends, including, apparently, their children. This is good thriller material and Hellmann develops it well.
More than a third of the book is told in flashback to the years between 1968 and 1970. This is the portion of the book in which Hellmann develops her characters and introduces political and personal conflicts between them that will have major repercussions in the present. To Hellmann's credit, this is also the portion of Set the Night on Fire that I found most difficult to read. Her portrayal of the radicals is so accurate that it reminded me of everything I hated about the sixties, especially the naïve pretentiousness of empty-headed terrorists willing to bomb private property at the risk of innocent lives in order to make some political point they only half understood. Sadly, just as in real life, some of the people in Hellmann's novel still live in Chicago where they are corrupting yet another generation of young people. That Hellmann could make me feel the same level of contempt for these people that I felt in the sixties and seventies is, indeed, a credit to her writing skills.
Set the Night on Fire is a nice blend of thriller with historical fiction, one that should be of interest to those that have been around long enough to have experienced the sixties for themselves and to those who only remember hearing their parents speak of those days.
Rated at: 4.0
Libby Fischer Hellmann's Set the Night on Fire is an interesting thriller and historical look back to the Summer of Rage in 1960s Chicago. Very authentic feel and trip down memory lane to the music of the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors and the anti-Vietnam war protests. I knew some of these characters in my university days(though none that set off any bombs).
I highly recommend this book to anyone, but it will be especially meaningful to Baby Boomers.
James A Anderson, Author
Dar Gantner, Alix Kerr, Julie Bergman, Casey Hilliard, Teddy Markham, and Payton meet accidentally in Chicago the summer of the 1968 Democratic convention. They're all to varying degrees involved in the protests, and in the aftermath they become housemates and friends, becoming both closer and more divided as their political and personal interests develop and change. It culminates two years later, with the bombing of a downtown Chicago department store that three of them are involved in. Alix, though not involved, is killed. Dar Gantner is the only one arrested and charged.
Forty years later, Dar is just emerging from prison. He starts to pick up the threads of his life, getting acquainted with four decades of social and technological change. He has a lingering question, though, about his old comrades and the bombing. He starts contacting people.
Casey Hilliard has raised the twins, Lila and Daniel, that Alix gave birth to shortly before her death. Casey hasn't got the answers Dar wants, but he gives him some information and Dar goes on his way.
Not long after, while the now-grown twins are visiting for Christmas, an electrical fire destroys the Hilliard home. Lila was out buying new Christmas lights, but her father and brother are killed.
Just a tragic accident.
Except that Rain and Payton are also soon dead in tragic accidents, and Dar returns from one of his trips to find that his apartment has been rather thoroughly tossed.
When Lila is nearly killed in a grenade attack on her brother's condo, Dar becomes even more determined to find answers. The problem is that Lila has no reason to trust a man who did forty years for murder.
The story winds through both time periods, and the characters grow, change, and reveal their true selves. It's a neat historical thriller, and a contemporary mystery, and a compelling story of well-drawn and complex characters. Recommended.
I received a free electronic copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.