25 May 2020

Review: Torched by Kimberley Starr

Torched by Kimberley Starr book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pantera Press *

Set in Victoria's Yarra Valley, Torched by Australian author Kimberley Starr is essentially about the relationship between Phoebe and her son Caleb. Phoebe is the Principal at the local Primary School in Brunton and her son Caleb is accused of starting a bushfire that raged through the district, burning everything in its path. Many people lost their lives, properties and livestock were destroyed, yet Caleb won't talk about what happened.

The locals in Brunton blame Caleb for their losses and Phoebe and Caleb's lives subsequently fall apart. As the court date draws closer, Phoebe is desperate to learn the truth.

I found myself a little annoyed with Caleb's character as he insisted on withdrawing into his artistic gothic persona and providing only vague responses to the allegations made against him. Phoebe is an equally flawed character and I thought way too much time was spent on her warring thoughts about her son and her insomnia.

The climax builds as the reader swings back and forth on whether Caleb is guilty or not until the final denouement. In contrast to most readers, I found the most exciting and compelling part of the book were the scenes that took place during the bushfire. The scenes featuring Phoebe were absolutely gripping and completely captured the horrors of an immensely powerful Australian bushfire. I felt the heat and Phoebe's fear, and I'd even go so far as to say it was as good as the bushfire scene in Scrublands by Chris Hammer.

Unfortunately, this level of writing isn't maintained throughout the novel. After the fire has been extinguished and the investigation begins, I was less moved by the rest of Phoebe and Caleb's story.

Overall, Torched is a good Australian mystery with a topical subject at its heart and a solid character study of a troubled mother son relationship.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

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