I loved this novel from page one. The title, A Slow Fire Burning, exactly describes the events, the intense and tragic backstories, of a small group of people which lead to the violent murder of Daniel Sutherland, a young man living in a grotty houseboat on London’s Regent’s Canal. The fire burns slowly, but it finally erupts and explodes in death. Any of these people could have killed Daniel, so desperate are their backgrounds. There’s Laura, a troubled but innately sweet girl who was seen leaving the boat covered in blood; Miriam who lives in the boat next door and discovers the body. Then there’s Carla, the dead boy’s aunt, and her crime writer ex-husband, Theo, who are both linked to Daniel. And observing from her armchair there’s Irene, dismissed by everyone including the police because she’s eighty and nobody takes her seriously…
I loved the setting of this very clever thriller, the sense of place, a small and picturesque stretch of the Regent’s Canal. It’s always fascinating to speculate about who lives in the houseboats there, and what kind of lives they lead in this little patch of London where, says Hawkins, “the rich live cheek by jowl with the poor, where the powerful rub shoulders with the powerless.” The characters all have secrets, carefully buried, all in their own way tragic and macabre. The lives of this group began so promisingly. As Angela, the murdered boy’s late mother, told her sister Carla: “It seems impossible now, doesn’t it? Thinking about it now, from here, that we were all so happy. It seems unimaginable. All that happiness wrecked.” This intelligent novel, full of extraordinary twists and turns, tense and gripping, is also about ordinary people, their lives full of regret.