Knopf Doubleday: 4/25/17
eBook review copy; 304 pages
"Up top, where the college was, where people went to work every day at the paper mill, that was Ashford. But down here under the bridge where the women did the snuff, saw visions, and ate fire, this was Burntown."
In 1975, Miles Sandeski saw a man wearing a chicken mask cut his mother's throat as she lounged in the backyard. Although Miles knew it wasn't him, his father was accused of the murder and hung himself. Now Miles has a family, his wife, Lily, and son and daughter, Errol and Eva. Miles also has the secret plans of an invention design by Thomas Edison that were given to him by his father. It is for a machine that will allow people to communication with the dead. Miles builds the machine, uses it once, and then keeps it covered up in his shop.
Years later the machine warns them of danger. A flood destroys their home, Miles and Errol are dead, and Lily and Eva (now known as Necco) have run away to safety, living with a group of homeless women. These women are where Lily joins a mystical group of women who call themselves "fire eaters" and snort a red powder they call "the devil's snuff" which is supposed to give them visions. When Lily later throws herself off a bridge, Necco (Eva) leaves the group and lives in an abandoned car with Hermes, her boyfriend. When another murder happens, Necco realizes that she is being pursued and targeted by an evil man her mom called "Snake Eyes."
Along with Necco and the Sandeski's story, Burntown follows the narrative of two others women: Theo, a high school senior and Pru, the cafeteria lady with a secret life. The lives of these three characters eventually unite into one storyline.
In Burntown, McMahon presents a satisfying story with a substantial plot. The story is intriguing with several mysteries/questions that need answers along with a sense of danger that follows all of our characters as they try to find the answers. But there is also an underlying sense of wonder and fascination in several scenes of the novel that are almost magical. Adding to the narrative are the many secrets - things aren't always what they seem in the plot and people - and mystical elements.
The characters are well-defined and developed. Several of the characters brought to life on the pages are memorable and made reading even more imperative. Once I started, I simply could not stop reading Burntown. McMahon is one of my go-to authors for exceptional writing combined with a compelling plot. I was totally engrossed from beginning to end. Burntown by Jennifer McMahon is a very highly recommended supernatural mystery/thriller.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday.