Atmospheric and richly detailed, A Lovely Way To Burn starts out as an immersive thriller set in the beginning days of a sickness epidemic called “the sweats” that’s wiping out thousands of London’s population. Our protagonist, however, is more than a little distracted from what’s going on – by the fact that her boyfriend’s just been murdered and no one seems to care.
Louise Welsh beautifully evokes London in the height of summertime as a petri dish of squirming humanity. Her eye for scenery and detail is excellent: the little moments that pass us by in life are, here, elegantly captured and examined for meaning. The protagonist, Stevie, who works as a TV shopping host, also makes for a promising centre point to the novel: by far my favourite scenes are the descriptions of Stevie selling toasters on TV at 6 a.m. with softcore porn abandon.
However, I found the resulting novel disappointing. It’s somehow simultaneously too ambitious and yet too narrow in scope. The mystery of who murdered Stevie’s boyfriend feels too rote, too obviously constructed. The best parts of Welsh’s writing are the organic details, but they end up buried beneath a paint-by-numbers whodunit.