My photos of my parents (proof I was loved)
My book (proof that I can still think)
My ID card (proof of my real name)
My sister’s letter (proof of why I’m here)
– The Last Thing to Burn
[ About the Book ]
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 . .
[ My Review ]
The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean was just published on January 7th with Hodder & Stoughton. Described as ‘unrelentingly tense and heart-poundingly atmospheric… a chilling and thought-provoking exploration of human survival and life on the fringes of society’, it is an absolute pleasure to be joining the blog tour today with my thoughts.
I’m probably a little different to many bloggers on this tour in that I have not read any of Will Dean’s previous work but I have, over time, seen the overwhelming positive reviews for his Tuva Moodyson series. As a standalone book, The Last Thing to Burn seemed a good place to start so when the blog tour opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance. I decided to go in blind, reading no press release or book blurb, so I was quite unprepared for the stark and bleak tale that played out as I turned the pages. Set in a remote location on a desolate farm, Jane, as we are introduced to her, makes an attempt to escape something and someone, but why?
Jane lives in a cold farm house with Leonard, a rough and extremely brutish, vile and unpleasant man, her jailer. Nine years previously, Jane or Thanh Dao as her name really is, left Vietnam with her sister, on a false promise, carrying a dream of a better life in the UK. They expected jobs and good money having paid extortionist fees to get to the UK, but their dreams were soon shattered, when they became part of a human trafficking ring. We all see the horror that transpires, bodies discovered in the backs of trucks, the pain, the anguish of those left behind.
In The Last Thing to Burn, Will Dean imagines the life of one such person and the horrors that she faces as she tries to survive on a daily basis, in a world that is unaware of her existence. Hanging onto her last few personal and priceless mementos, Thanh Dao is brave, strong and courageous but her resolve is weakened every time Leonard takes one of her precious belongings and burns it. He is reducing her ability to stay up, to stay afloat, to survive.
In a recent interview with Foyles Bookshop Will Dean said that – “Much of the tension in The Last Thing to Burn comes from the basic set-up. On one level the premise is extreme and unfamiliar, but on another level it’s horrifically relatable: the idea that two people co-exist in one isolated place and that one of those people controls the other. This is a scenario that plays out all across the world each day in myriad forms and it terrifies me.” Bringing his own take on this horrendous activity, the reader is exposed to a disturbing and extremely unsettling read. There are human beings, right now, being treated like animals and forced into a life of exploitation and cruelty. These people were born and started life with dreams and ambitions, ones that were cruelly ripped away by some very evil individuals.
The Last Thing To Burn is, at times, quite a challenging read. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth as you try hard, but fail, to imagine the pure horror, the sense of isolation, of torment and of terror of these poor souls unwittingly kidnapped by these gangs who inflict such unimaginable suffering on another human being.
The Last Thing to Burn, amidst the darkness, unexpectedly offers hope, throwing a gentle light on what can happen when someone listens, someone offers assistance, someone isn’t afraid to step up and help, even when they themselves are at risk.
The Last Thing to Burn is most certainly a harrowing read but it is also a story of courage and determination and of the pure will to survive. Claustrophobic and very atmospheric, a book that would transfer well on to the big/small screen, The Last Thing to Burn is an extremely emotive and, dare I say, very thought-provoking read. Congratulations to Will Dean for writing about such a difficult and horrendous societal issue and for highlighting, through fiction, the horror that is experienced by one too many individuals.
[ Bio ]
WILL DEAN grew up in the East Midlands and had lived in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying Law at the LSE and working in London, he settled in rural Sweden where he built a house in a boggy clearing at the centre of a vast elk forest, and it’s from this base that he compulsively reads and writes.
His debut novel, Dark Pines, was selected for Zoe Ball’s Book Club, shortlisted for the Guardian Not the Booker prize and named a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year. The second Tuva Moodyson mystery, Red Snow, was published in January 2019 and won Best Independent Voice at the Amazon Publishing Readers’ Awards, 2019.
The Last Thing to Burn is his first standalone novel and his first book with Hodder.
Twitter – @willrdean