Ryan O’Donnell is an undercover cop on a new assignment, tracking a suspected arsonist in the Atherton Tablelands in northern Queensland. He’s playing the part of a city fire fighter on stress leave, volunteering for the local brigade hoping to get a handle on what’s going on, infiltrate and find out information. This brings him into contact with Kaitlyn Scott.
Kaitlyn works for Border Watch and it’s her job to help track arsonists using infra-red equipment in the air. She has a painful past, losing her husband, her father and her home in a fire five years ago and she fled north with her mother and her young son, looking to put some distance between her and the tragedy. When she meets Ryan, a mysterious man who is renting the house closest to hers, the attraction is immediate. But Kaitlyn is damaged and scarred, even as she’s drawn to Ryan. The way Ryan is towards her young son softens her heart towards him but she keeps telling herself that he’s too secretive. Too mysterious. And she can’t be drawn in by someone she thinks she knows only to be hurt again.
It is soon obvious that the fires working their devastation in the local area can only be deliberately lit. Fueled by hot weather and dry storms with lightning strikes, the conditions are perfect for the firebug to truly wreak some havoc. Kaitlyn is desperate to not only identify the culprit but protect herself and her family from another devastating loss. But the rumours and half-truths are flying as thick and fast as the flames and Kaitlyn doesn’t know who she can trust. Could she have put her faith in the wrong man again?
Burning Lies is the third and final novel in the Border Watch trilogy. I read the other two recently and this became one of my most anticipated novels of 2012 and I was thrilled when a finished copy arrived on my doorstep courtesy of the people at Penguin Australia. Both Ryan and Kaitlyn appear in the previous novel, Shattered Sky. We didn’t see much of Kaitlyn but Ryan played a small part in the important story and I had liked him immediately so I was excited when I heard he moved to front and centre for the final novel. Ryan is back undercover again, even though the events of his last mission have left scars on him, both physical and mental. His job is to investigate the likelihood of an arsonist at work, taking on the persona of Brad Ryan.
Ryan is so used to slipping into constructed identities, something that he’s been doing for many years now. He’s beginning to recognise that he’s having trouble remembering exactly who the real Ryan is, until he meets Kaitlyn. He feels that he can be himself around her, the person that he really is without any need to dress it up or play a role. Now I was already a fan of Ryan but I enjoyed him even more, especially with both Kaitlyn and also her family. When Kaitlyn’s seven year old son Daniel comes around, Ryan knows he should send him packing. But he can’t bring himself to, instead bonding with the boy and spending time with him. In his friendship with Daniel, Ryan sees what could be his life. He didn’t even know he wanted it until he met them.
Kaitlyn is fragile and inexperienced and although she wants Ryan to be trustworthy, she can’t quite convince herself that he is. She sweats the small stuff, such as Ryan’s age (or assumed age, she really has no idea how old he is) as a way to possibly stall the inevitable. Helene Young has done a great job laying the foundations for a delicious sexual attraction with hidden depths for two characters who are both essentially quite lonely and missing that key connection with another person in their lives. Kaitlyn has deliberately kept herself aloof from people, not forming any real friendships and Ryan’s job means that his connections to people are all made under false aliases and only temporary. In each other, they can both see something permanent.
Like Wings Of Fear and Shattered Sky before it, Burning Lies delves into an important issue facing this country: arsonists. We are a country of long droughts at times and high temperatures. Bushfires are a given and they can be absolutely devastating. But time after time, things are made far worse by people deliberately lighting fires for the sheer thrill of watching things burn. Often these result in homes and even lives being lost. It’s hard enough to fight the destruction of nature without adding in. Burning Lies is meticulously researched but with information and scenarios that don’t slow down the pace building at all. The story keeps moving, never pausing, making its way to the dramatic climax that delivers everything promised throughout.
Burning Lies is a fantastic conclusion to what has been a wonderful trilogy. Fresh and different for me in more ways than one, it was lovely to read stories set in northern Queensland, not often a popular choice of setting despite its beauty. Likewise the characters jobs have been equally new to me but also interesting, giving me a better idea of just how much work goes into monitoring and protecting our vast coastline.
Book #109 of 2012
Burning Lies is the 40th novel I’ve read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.
Burning Lies is set for release today (Monday 2nd July 2012).