reviewed by Pam Guynn
Radiant Heat by Sarah-Jane Collins is an atmospheric mystery set in Lake Bend, Victoria, Australia. A horrific wildfire rips through Alison King’s hometown. After riding out the fire in her bathroom covered in a wet woolen blanket, she’s thankful to be alive. The fire had come close but changed directions.
As she heads down her driveway, she spots a red car with a dead woman in it and finds a piece of paper with Alison’s name and address on it. Why was Simone Arnold trying to find Alison? Did she die because of the fire or was it something else that caused her death? Alison searches for answers.
Alison is a promising artist who moved back to her family home after her parents’ deaths. She lives alone, is sarcastic, and is easily distracted. She’s also an annoying main character who doesn’t listen to others and accept help when she should. She makes many bad decisions and isn’t extremely likeable, sometimes using others without contrition. Several secondary characters were complex and well-defined and the incredible setting is almost like a character itself.
This novel is very descriptive without slowing down the pace. There are some suspenseful scenes, although some of them are flashbacks. As she investigates the mystery woman, we learn more of Alison’s past. Unfortunately, these flashbacks adversely affected the pacing for me despite their importance to the story line. There was little to no warning of the time changes and this became disconcerting at times. The plot is multi-layered and has a few surprises for the readers. The search for answers moves the story forward through some unexpected twists.
The story grabbed my attention immediately and readers learn over time of the extent of the death and havoc the fire left behind. Friends, families, homes, and businesses are lost. The intrigue and mystery surrounding Simone’s death kept me turning the pages and the tension built gradually. Unfortunately, the ending was too ambiguous for me. I have several questions that remain unanswered and I wanted some closure. Despite this, the story is evocative and tragic with some thought-provoking scenes that kept me engaged. Themes include fire devastation and its impact on those who survive, secrets, death, relationships, control of others, feeling safe, and much more.
Overall, this engrossing, dark, intense, and unsettling thriller has good characterization, even with a main character that wasn’t extremely likeable, and great world-building while pulling on the heart strings. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.
Berkley Publishing Group and Sarah-Jane Collins provided a complimentary digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own. Publication date is currently set for January 23, 2024.
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