Tuesday 7 March 2023

The Half Burnt House by Alex North #TheHalfBurntHouse @writer_north @MichaelJBooks #BookReview


Katie Shaw always looked after her younger brother Chris - until she left him alone one carefree afternoon and he was savagely attacked. He hasn't spoken to her since.

Now a mother, Katie vows not to repeat her mistakes. Carelessness cost her one family, and she won't let it destroy another.

Then she receives a call from the police.

They're investigating a particularly brutal murder, in a half-ruined house that once belonged to a notorious local serial killer. The case has thrown up many unsettling questions, but only one prime suspect: Chris.

The detective wants Katie's help finding him, but she has only one thing on her mind: proving her brother's innocence, and finally making up for her negligence all those years ago. But soon it becomes clear that the killer isn't finished yet.

Which means that even as she attempts to save her old family, Katie is placing her new one in deadly peril . . .

The Half Burnt House by Alex North is published on 16 March 2023 by Michael Joseph. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

I am a huge fan of this author, his previous two novels; The Whisper Man and The Shadow Friend are two of my favourite crime fiction books of the past few years. It's been almost three years since The Shadow Friend and I've been longing to get to The Half Burnt House for all of that time. I know that this was not an easy book for the author to write, he mentions this in his author note, the ongoing pandemic and lock downs cannot have helped either. 

However, despite the wait and the difficulties, I can safely say that once again, Alex North has produced a novel that will delight. It's a complex, multi woven story, incorporating philosophical theories that are not always simple, but the author's ability to explain these, along with how they link into the plot is really quite excellent. 

The story revolves around Katie Shaw, a woman who is married to her childhood sweetheart, with a small daughter Siena. Katie and her brother Christopher were always close as children, however when tragedy struck Chris, Katie always blamed herself. Over the years, Chris has faced many issues, including addiction and homelessness and he and Katie have been estranged for two years. Their mother still has contact with him and when Katie receives a phone call from her Mum about Chris, her inner loyalty means that she must help, although her husband Sam would rather she stay out of it. 

Alan Hobbes, retired philosophy lecturer has been found dead in his sprawling mansion. The house is old and almost derelict and still bears the remains of the fire from many years ago that killed his infant son. Detective Inspector Laurence Page is assigned to the case, and from the very beginning he finds evidence that Hobbes expected his death, and even prepared for it. As Hobbes had spent many years teaching the theory of determination, this fits into his entire lifestyle. 

Christopher Shaw, who is missing seems to be connected to the death, but how, and why?

Prepare yourself for a roller coaster read that will sometimes take you out of your comfort zone and may challenge your beliefs. As new characters are introduced, seemingly unconnected, it can be a puzzle but North expertly weaves the characters together, creating ties that could never have been anticipated. 

Once again, as with his previous novels, the author concentrates on the parent-child relationship, this time it's the father/son relationship that is the theme and it's masterfully done, with a hint of the grotesque at times. Chilling references to murders from years before, soon become a huge feature of this plot and the clever and expert way that everything comes together is utterly spellbinding. 

Twisting, sometimes terrifying, but written so beautifully, The Half Burnt House is another cracker from this incredibly talented author. Highly recommended by me. 

Alex North was born in Leeds, where he now lives with his wife and son. 

He studied Philosophy at Leeds University, and prior to becoming a writer he worked there in their sociology department. 

The Whisper Man was a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller, and is being published in more than 30 languages.

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