Verdict: Suspend your moral compass and dive on in – you’ll enjoy the murder-fest for all its bizarre drama and insanity.
BURNING WINGS by Benjamin Branfman is one-part murder mystery, one-part psychological thriller, and one-part rant against the world’s entrenched elite, brought to life by a collection of the most unsympathetic narrators you’re ever likely to meet.
The story opens with a gruesome murder, and as the plot unfolds it seems like there could be more killings on the cards. Why did Richard Mallard, an employee at law firm Branch & Hawthorne, decide to spontaneously bludgeon to death one of the senior partners? It’s a question that’s well worth asking, and one that certainly seems to weigh considerably on the troubled minds of Mallard’s friends and colleagues. Years later, apropos of nothing in particular, a group of them decide that it’s time to find out the truth.
What follows is a twisting, turning who/why/how dunnit loaded with clever but unlikely happenings. The novel is short, and the events described unfold over the course of a single night. As such it’s an easy read, and one that doesn’t lose momentum for a second. The eventual resolution relies on some utterly barmy conceits, but there is a cinematic, melodramatic quality to the writing that makes the unlikeliness of it all seem… well… kind of okay: stylized rather than clumsy.
A fair number of characters, it seems, are not exactly on the moral straight-and-narrow. And those who are a little more sympathetic, ruin it by being as flat as cardboard (it’s never possible to tell which of the rotating narrators you are reading at any given time, because they all write in the same voice) or utterly pathetic. It’s hard to know whose side you’re supposed to be on, and the ultimate conclusion was this: nobody’s. BURNING WINGS makes the most sense if you accept that you’re actually supposed to find all of the characters either dull or repellent.
In this light, it’s possible to sit back and enjoy the roller-coaster inversions of the plot, while also reveling in the thorough nastiness of the cast. It’s a crime drama in which the reader doesn’t have to worry about the fate of the hero, because there is no hero. It’s a thriller in which part of the thrill comes from just how thoroughly awful the characters are. And, as it happens, that makes it quite a joyous thing to read.
~Krishan Coupland for IndieReader