On a dark and stormy night, Nicole “Nikki” Frank finds herself flying through the air in her expensive Landrover, then crashing into a ravine. Though she’s injured she manages to crawl through the mud onto the road, where she flags down a car for help. She insists her daughter Vero is in the car, but a search and rescue finds nothing – and then Nikki’s husband Thomas tells the detectives they do not have any children. Meanwhile detectives discover Nikki’s been hospitalised three times in the recent past with concussions, which begs the question: is Nikki just confused, or is something more sinister going on?
Crash and Burn is an unhinged book. Not in the sense that it’s insane – it’s not exactly House of Leaves – but it’s entirely off-balance. At least two widely divergent books have been crammed into one. The first one, about an isolated and mysterious couple and suspected spousal abuse and gaslighting, has the makings of a decent thriller. The other half is basically someone trying to rewrite The Castle of Otranto on ketamine. It’s bonkers and completely over the top, full of cliché faux-gothic elements and one dubious plottwist after the other. Is it fun? Sort of. Maybe. I raced through this book, but once I put it down I wondered what the hell I’d just read. The villain here is called Madame de Sadé and there’s a lot of talk about pretty little princesses trapped in towers. That’s basically all you need to know.
And that’s a shame because the first half is not entirely bad. Is Thomas abusing his wife? Why do they move around so much? Where do Nikki’s memories of Vero come from? What happened to the little girl? Is Thomas gaslighting his wife or is he genuinely trying to help her? Nikki’s subsequent concussions make her confused, her memory unreliable, and narratively speaking this is a neat trick. But the longer the novel goes on, the more implausible it becomes, and there is such a thing as too many plottwists. There are loose ends to be tied up from a previous novel (this book is the third in a series, and I haven’t read the first two parts) which is uninteresting if you haven’t bread the previous installments and dissatisfying if you have. I also didn’t care for the writing too much. It might have been my translation, but the wording seemed off and rather wooden and the character dialogues come across as stilted. And then there’s Nikki’s endless fairytale warbling, as if the Brother Grimm threw up on this book.
It’s a shame, really, because I don’t have a lot of time for reading, and I wonder why I spent it on this book. There is a decent enough story in there, but good writing is like good cooking: you’ve got to know when to stop adding shit and there is such a thing as too much cheese.