Book Review: A Slow Burn, by Mary DeMuth

Last night I finished reading A Slow Burn , a recently released novel by Texas resident Mary E. DeMuth. This is the second novel in her Defiance Texas Trilogy, a series that tells the story of a tragic event in a small east Texas town and its impact on the people who live there. I read A Slow Burn right after finishing Daisy Chain, the first book in the trilogy. Unfortunately I can't tell you about A Slow Burn without including a spoiler for Daisy Chain, so if you haven't read the first book, maybe you should just stop now, take my word for it, go buy that book, and read it before you read the rest of my review. I am very glad I read these well written books and wait eagerly for the release of the third and final novel in the trilogy.

I am struggling to find words to describe A Slow Burn and how it made me feel, so let me start by saying I strongly recommend both books. The stories have a suspenseful throughline — in Daisy Chain, a 13-year-old girl goes missing and ultimately is found murdered. At the end of A Slow Burn we still don't know who killed young Daisy Chance, and throughout the story the town of Defiance, Texas, is on edge because the killer is still at large. Each of the books is told from a different point of view. Daisy Chain is told mostly in the voice of 14-year-old Jed Pepper, Daisy's best friend, while A Slow Burn is told mostly from the perspective of Daisy's mother, Emory, a single mom with a wounded, sordid past. Both characters are struggling with grief. Each of them at times seems to be losing the battle with overwhelming guilt over their respective roles (real or perceived) in Daisy's disappearance and death.

Mary DeMuth writes with a lyrical grace that borders on poetic, deftly creating a world you experience with all of your senses and characters who live and breathe. These books don't sugar-coat the world they portray, though. Jed and Emory and the other people living in the wake of Daisy's death are all the more compelling for the real-world anguish they endure — various key players suffer the effects of drug addiction, anger, infidelity, domestic abuse. DeMuth pulls no punches in showing the awful consequences of these things, with heartwrenching impact on the reader at times.

But — and this is a critical “but” that makes these books must-reads — the entire, often heartbreaking, tale is suffused with a subtly and artfully conveyed message of hope: grace and mercy are available and abundant, and healing is possible for even the deepest of soul-wounds. The last few chapters of A Slow Burn included events that surprised me and left me . . . almost unable to breathe as I experienced the depths to which a broken soul can take a person — and the unimaginable lengths to which grace will go to rescue that broken soul. In the context of an engrossing story about a child's death and a mystery killer, A Slow Burn asks the question (among others): can a person's sin take her to a place so dark, so far, that grace can't reach her there?

The book's back-cover copy says it well: “[T]his suspenseful novel is about courageous love, the burden of regret, and bonds that never break. It is about the beauty and the pain of telling the truth. Most of all, it is about the poiwer of forgiveness and what remains when shame no longer holds us captive.”

I don't feel like I've done this book justice — I want to say I recommend these books to anyone who enjoys fiction, but they run deeper than that. Unlike some “Christian fiction” that reads like a thinly veiled (and badly written) sermon, Daisy Chain and A Slow Burn simply tell a riveting story and, while doing so, show a vivid picture of how God's grace can reach into the darkest situation and bring light.