Doolittle, Sean. Burn.

Los Angeles: Uglytown, 2003.

Andrew Kindler is a professional arsonist who has found it expedient to leave his home and his dodgy employers back in Baltimore and go visiting his cousin, Caroline, in Los Angeles. He has decided to try to make a new life, if only people would let him, . . . but he probably shouldn’t have taken that money with him when he left.

He’s comfortably holed up at Caroline’s beach house, watching the hourly news regarding a raging wildfire that’s working its way through the canyons, and just keeping his head down while his bruises heal. He’s paying no attention to the other news regarding the discovery of the body in an apparent car wreck of Gregor Tavlin, a celebrity fitness guru and employee of the Lomax family’s gym and personal training empire, because it has nothing to do with him. But then, suddenly, it does.

The cops come looking for him — and they seem to know who he is, though they shouldn’t. And then he finds a PI poking around in his living room. Which leads him to Heather Lomax, who hired the PI — a sweet girl but also a bit dangerous. And there are unexpected ties between her father and Kindler’s ex-employer. And then there’s Todd Todman, a Lomax company employee responsible for making everyone look good, but pschologically he’s kind of on the edge. And there’s Rod Marvalis, Tavlin’s replacement in the aerobics videos, who is becoming a handful. And there’s also Luther Vines, a muscle-brained security man for the Lomaxes, who has his own career plans.

There seem to be a lot of occasionally unlikely coincidences in the lives of all these characters. But, as Cousin Caroline says, “There are no coincidences. Only moments and choices.” And Andrew concludes that “everything seemed somehow connected to something else.” But the reader will find some of it awfully hard to buy. There’s some really good dialogue here, and some nicely drawn scenes, and several of the characters are very well realized. Nevertheless, as a whole, the narrative doesn’t quite work. The whole is not greater than the sum of the parts. For the first three-quarters of the book, I had to keep pausing to remind myself who was who and what exactly their relationships were. It mostly all comes together at the end, but it’s kind of a rocky road getting there, though the journey is generally a lot of fun. And not all the questions are answered where Andrew’s past and present are concerned, nor does his past profession ever really have much to do with events in L.A., except to provide a bit of irony.

Published in: on 23 August 2013 at 9:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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