10:00 am EDT, November 10, 2017

‘Bonfire’ by Krysten Ritter review: All hail women who don’t have their shit together

A little Veronica Mars, a little Jessica Jones, and 100% pure Krysten Ritter. Fans of well-written thrillers will want to pick up Bonfire ASAP.

About ‘Bonfire’ by Krysten Ritter

Should you ever go back?

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as Abby tries to find out what really happened to Kaycee, she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game,” which will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.

With tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote, rural town of just five claustrophobic miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of the question: can you ever outrun your past?

BONFIRE by Krysten Ritter

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‘Bonfire’ review

People always say “write what you know.” At least, that’s what I’ve heard is often said to people who want to write. Krysten Ritter seems to have followed that advice in writing her debut novel, Bonfire. I don’t pretend to know what Krysten Ritter’s life was before she started acting (or even what it’s like now), but I do know the ins and outs of a couple of the most famous properties she’s appeared in.

Some would even say I’m a super-fan of two of them. And, from reading Bonfire, there’s no doubt in my mind that Krysten Ritter is too. (Not that there was really any doubt in my mind before I started reading…)

Bonfire book is like Jessica Jones meets Veronica Mars, from the messy female main character to the small town with big hidden issues to the idea of never being able to escape your past. Two of Ritter’s most beloved (by me) properties she has acted in are pretty much baked into this book’s DNA, and yet, at the same time, Bonfire feels completely fresh and 100% Ritter.

Oh yeah, and it’s really good.

Ritter’s depiction of a derelict small Midwestern town is layered and gritty, yet full of heart and personality. The townies — even those who don’t play a huge part — practically leap off the page and feel like people you’ve encountered in real life, for better or worse.

The story moves at a quick clip and the mystery is incredibly intriguing, taking on the environment and small-town corruption at the same time. As the synopsis hints, terrible aspects of the past and the future intertwine in a way that will leave you feeling a little sick. And yet, it’s not as intense as some of the thrillers that have come out over the last few years. The story is no walk in the park, but it won’t leave you in a depressing headspace.

While there aren’t an overwhelming amount of layers to this mystery (like there are with similar stories such as The Girl on the Train or White Bodies), it’s very well-written and well-plotted. While I could guess a few of the connections mid-way through Bonfire, I think that comes more from my familiarity with the genre and the notion that everything is always connected/is always a clue.

In addition to the plot, Bonfire readers will be impressed with Ritter’s use of language. As an actress, she has had the opportunity act out some of the most well-written lines of dialogue, but this novel shows that she can write them as well as read them. There are quite a few passages and lines that will make you stop and revel in their poetic natures. If nothing else, Bonfire proves that Ritter is a deft craftsman of the English language.

But, honestly, the best part about Bonfire is the story’s main character, Abby Williams. She has Veronica Mars’ penchant for finding trouble and solving mysteries and Jessica Jones’ messiness. Sure, Abby looks like she has everything together — she’s an environmental lawyer after all. But this lawyer gets pulled back down into the mud as soon as she comes back home (cue The Dandy Warhols’ “We Used to Be Friends”).

She’s imperfect and flawed and paranoid and drinks a bit more than she should. And yet, she’s not beating herself up about who she is. She’s not comparing herself to other women or blaming her past for her present. Yes, she acknowledges that her past is a part of her and has made her who she is, but she embraces it (no matter how painful it may be). Abby Williams is a woman who doesn’t have her shit together and isn’t ashamed of her mess. We need more characters like her.

All in all, I’m very glad that Krysten Ritter didn’t “stay in her lane” as an actress. Bonfire is a well-crafted debut novel with a story that will keep you guessing, not only about what’s really going on in the town but also “whodunnit.” This novel proves that Krysten Ritter could own the whole road, not just a single lane, and that we should just hop in and enjoy the ride.

Krysten Ritter’s debut novel Bonfire is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local independent bookstore. Also, don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads “to read” list!

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