This is an interesting mix between a Plague story and a murder mystery. Set in London, people are getting sick with what has been dubbed ‘The Sweats.’ People respond with a mix of paranoia and apathy. You will always have the group that raids the grocery stores for food and water. You will also have the group who stay at work believing the panic to be nothing more than a craze. There is also the set that will camp out at the pub reveling in the fact that maybe the bar owner died but that just means you won’t have to pay your tab. This all happens in ‘A Lovely Way to Burn’ but its a backdrop. Stevie is young, beautiful, and works as a Shopping Network Presenter. She is the person who gets equally wildly excited about selling you Christmas Lights, a cookware set, or jewelry. Her initial desire was to become a journalist but she fell into this job and got really comfortable. When her handsome, materialistic, doctor boyfriend doesn’t return her phone calls she decides he’s moved on. She works herself up to a tizzy, goes to pick up her stuff, and finds him dead in his bed. At first she believes it was ‘The Sweats,’ everyone is getting it, but then his co-workers, and the family she never met, ask if it could be suicide. She’d only been dating him for a few months so she doesn’t really know. Then she finds he left her his computer with strict instructions it can only be given to one person, the only doctor he trusted. With this new info his cause of death becomes questionable.
Amongst people dying of a genuine plague Stevie sets out on the mystery of what happened to her boyfriend. Stevie is immune. She got sick but is one of the few who got better. What does she decide to do with her immunity? Does she help people to find a cure? Does she seek safety to ride this illness out? No. Stevie takes foolish risks driving around London with no thought to finding food, shelter, or rationing gas. This fairly shallow character decides amongst a dying city she is going to find out what happened to her boyfriend. Is it because she loved him and is heartbroken? Is it because she believes in what he was doing? No. Stevie knows very little about the man she was dating. She knew he liked fancy restaurants, nice cars, and they had a good time together. She didn’t know him well enough to care to meet his friends or find out much about what he did. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this. I don’t expect utter devotion to someone you’ve only been casually dating, but I also don’t comprehend risking your life, at the end of the world, to find out why they were killed when you just weren’t that invested. Many characters ask her why she is bothering to find out what happened to him when the entire city is dying. I wholeheartedly agree with them.
Stevie and the rest of the characters in the book are shallow and not particularly likable. I had a hard time getting into the book. Towards the end it got better. That said, I could not figure out why we were wasting time on the mystery of Simon’s death when the plague has come to town. I kept looking for what tied the story together. It felt like the book couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. It is part of a series, however, and I want to see where book two goes. The mystery portion gets completed, so I believe book two must be about the devastation reaped by plague. I haven’t decided if I will read book two, but I do think it must be better. Stevie will have to figure out survival, and she isn’t nearly as shallow at the end of the book. So, while not very prudent, she has a chance at developing into a character of substance. Maybe that will be the moral of the series – even the most frivolous have a shot if life challenges them and they choose to rise to the occasion.