Monday 18 May 2020

Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald BLOG TOUR @FitzHelen @OrendaBooks #AshMountain #BookReview

Single-mother Fran returns to her sleepy hometown to care for her dying father when a devastating bush fire breaks out. A devastating, disaster-noir thriller from the author of The Cry.

Fran hates Ash Mountain, and she thought she’d escaped. But her father is ill, and needs care. Her relationship is over, and she hates her dead-end job in the city, anyway.

She returns to her hometown to nurse her dying father, her distant teenage daughter in tow for the weekends. There, in the sleepy town of Ash Mountain, childhood memories prick at her fragile self-esteem, she falls in love for the first time, and her demanding dad tests her patience, all in the unbearable heat of an Australian summer.

As old friendships and rivalries are renewed, and new ones forged, Fran’s tumultuous home life is the least of her worries, when old crimes rear their heads and a devastating bushfire ravages the town and all of its inhabitants…

Simultaneously a warm, darkly funny portrait of small-town life – and a woman and a land in crisis – and a shocking and truly distressing account of a catastrophic event that changes things forever, Ash Mountain is a heart-breaking slice of domestic noir, and a disturbing disaster thriller that you will never forget…

Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald is published by Orenda Books (ebook 14 March, paperback 20 August 2020).
I was delighted to be able to buy an early paperback release at one of the Orenda Roadshow events earlier this year, and my copy was signed by the author.

Here's my thoughts, as part of the Blog Tour

Helen Fitzgerald is an author who cannot be categorized. In Ash Mountain, just as in her previous book, Worst Case Scenario, she brings us a story that is populated by the most hideously real characters, and a plot that races along at a pace that can be both meandering, yet exhilarating at times.

Ash Mountain is an apt title for this story; it is not only the name of the small Australian town where the action takes place, it is also a perfect description of how the effects of discoveries made and memories realised can reduce people, and a place to, metaphorically speaking, a pile of dust. 

Lead character Fran is in her forties; a single mother of two. She's returned to Ash Mountain, the town where she grew up, to nurse her father. Fran's personal history is colourful and complicated. Her first child; Dante, was born when she was just fifteen, and still living at home with her widowed father. Her teenage daughter Vonny is a the result of her most recent relationship, with Vincent. Whilst she and Vincent remain friends, he's now moved on to a newer model and they share parenting of Vonny.

The story begins and ends on the day that Ash Mountain is consumed by the raging bush fires that have devastated large swathes of Australia. The opening scenes have a sense of despair and destruction that is hard to shake, even as this talented author takes her readers back through Fran's earlier life. We learn about three specific eras of Fran's life; thirty years ago when she was the same age as her daughter Vonny is now, moving to just a few days before the fire, and then to that awful day as the skies turn black, and then red and the heat and flames consume everything in its path.

Fran is a complex character; often sharp-tongued, with a humour that is as dark as night. As her story unfolds, the reader begins to realise that Ash Mountain is not just her home town, it is a place that has formed her future life. There are passages of discovery that are breathtaking, that will reduce even the hardest reader to tears, and are so beautifully depicted, yet starkly told. The writing is genius.

A story that encapsulates the realisms of small-town life, of how memories can be repressed and secrets known,  yet hidden. There's new love, there's the rediscovery of old attraction.

As the fire gets closer, the author does not hide anything from the reader. The pure horror and utter destruction is described in such detail, creating horrific images that almost sear into the brain. I found some of the final scenes very difficult to shake off. 

Tense, absorbing and very very clever. The characters and the town are brilliantly drawn. This is a compulsive yet moving story that I found very difficult to put down and will remember for a very long time.

Helen FitzGerald is the bestselling author of ten adult and young adult thrillers, including The Donor (2011) and The Cry (2013), which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and is now a major drama for BBC1. 
Her 2019 dark comedy thriller Worst Case Scenario was a Book of the Year in both The Guardian and Daily Telegraph. 
Helen worked as a criminal justice social worker for over fifteen years. 
She grew up in Victoria, Australia, and now lives in Glasgow with her husband
Twitter @FitzHelen

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