Saturday 3 October 2020

The Last Thing to Burn - Will Dean

He is her husband. She is his captive.

Her husband calls her Jane. That is not her name.

She lives in a small farm cottage, surrounded by vast, open fields. Everywhere she looks, there is space. But she is trapped. No one knows how she got to the UK: no one knows she is there. Visitors rarely come to the farm; if they do, she is never seen.

Her husband records her every movement during the day. If he doesn't like what he sees, she is punished.

For a long time, escape seemed impossible. But now, something has changed. She has a reason to live and a reason to fight. Now, she is watching him, and waiting ...

What did I think?

I've heard nothing but good things about Will Dean books, namely the Tuva Moodyson series, so when I saw that his new book was a standalone thriller I decided that the time was right to see what all the fuss was about.  The Last Thing to Burn is a hard-hitting book dealing with human trafficking so it's not easy to read at times but oh my word, it's absolutely brilliant.

Will Dean really manages to portray Thanh Dao's every emotion as we read about her being held captive by farmer Lenn.  I refuse to call her Jane as that isn't her name, which Thanh Dao keeps reminding us.  Thanh Dao holds on tightly to her identity through her meagre possessions that Lenn burns one by one in the Rayburn stove every time he perceives that she has stepped out of line.  Lenn watches Thanh Dao's every move through video cameras set up in the house so she really can't do anything without Lenn seeing.

Thanh Dao and her sister Kim-Ly were brought to the UK from Vietnam in a shipping container but their dreams of a better life were shattered when Thanh Dao was sold to Lenn.  Kim-Ly is working in a nail bar in Manchester to pay back the cost of their passage and Thanh Dao is warned that if she tries to escape, Kim-Ly will be sent back to Vietnam with the full debt to repay.  What a predicament to be in; Thanh Dao is desperate to be free of Lenn but her love for her sister is the only thing that keeps her going.

Thanh Dao has to clean, cook and lie back and think of Vietnam so it felt like I had stepped back into a different century; back to a time when a woman's place was in the kitchen.  Lenn is an absolutely odious man, treating Thanh Dao like a slave which of course is what she is.  Some of the things he does and says had my mouth gaping in shock and horror, he really is very selfish and doesn't have a caring bone in his body.  No wonder he had to buy a 'wife'.  There's certainly no fear of Thanh Dao suffering from Stockholm Syndrome!

As Thanh Dao's hatred for Lenn intensifies, and circumstances change, she becomes braver and starts planning her escape.  The tension is ramped up to fever pitch and I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest; it felt like there was a string on a fret board being tightened and tightened until it reached breaking point.  Even my reading pace increased as if any extra seconds I could give Thanh Dao would help.  As I raced towards the conclusion, I was totally floored by another twist in the tale - to say I gasped out loud is an understatement.

The Last Thing to Burn is a heart-pounding thriller that is as taut as a bowstring.  Filled with tension and suspense, this is a dark and disturbing novel that is difficult to put down because Thanh Dao's story completely draws you in.  It's horrific and shocking but incredibly powerful, evoking so many emotions in me (especially negative emotions towards Lenn, admittedly).  Human trafficking is a difficult subject to read about but full marks to Will Dean for drawing attention to the plight of so many women who leave their home country in search of a better life, only to find themselves enslaved.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

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