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The Boy in the Burning House

by Tim Wynne-Jones

Somebody is trying to blackmail Father Fisher of the Church of the Blessed Transfiguration, and his teenage stepdaughter, Ruth Rose, wants to know why. She’s pretty sure Father was involved in the mysterious disappearance of his childhood friend Hub Hawkins two years ago but can’t prove it. Nobody would believe Ruth Rose anyway – she’s had psychotic episodes and is on antidepressants. But when she enlists the support of Hub’s 14-year-old son, Jim, who still doesn’t believe his dad committed suicide, the past begins to yield its secrets.

An absolutely riveting thriller, this book is a tour de force for Tim Wynne-Jones. Inspired in part by a short story in his collection Lord of the Fries, Wynne-Jones offers readers a giddy roller coaster ride that swerves and curves in all the right places. It’s different from his previous novels for young adults, multi-award winner The Maestro and Stephen Fair, because it’s so forcefully driven by plot. That said, Wynne-Jones still deftly probes the psychological depths of his two protagonists – the focus on Jim’s grief and how he deals with it is particularly moving – but the effect here isn’t quite the same as in his previous novels.

Readers won’t want to put this superb mystery down until they discover whodunit. From the very first page Wynne-Jones grabs hold of his readers with the words “Somebody was trying to blackmail Father.” The novel is also full of wonderful literary play – with a sly nod to great adventures like Treasure Island, for example, in characters named Jim Hawkins and Billy Bones.