Review: Louise Welsh – A Lovely Way to Burn

A Lovely Way to BurnLouise Welsh, a talented writer of standalone psychological thrillers, has written the first book in the Plague Times trilogy. The series is set in a dystopian near future in the grip of a virus similar to the bubonic plague. The narrative opens with the unexplained death of a dedicated but hedonistic young doctor but soon chronicles the collapse of London society as the epidemic sweeps across the city.

Stevie Flint is a former journalist turned shopping channel TV presenter. When she is stood up by her boyfriend, Simon, she assumes he’s no longer interested in her. However, she later finds his body in his flat, his death apparently the result of natural causes. London is in the grip of an epidemic that is initially assumed to be flu but spreads with a ferocity and virulence that causes widespread panic in the city. When Stevie receives a note from Simon asking her to deliver a briefcase to a colleague, she is plunged into a world of medical secrets that people are prepared to kill in order to protect. Stevie is one of the first to contract the disease and her survival, while others are succumbing to the epidemic, makes her an object of fascination to those looking for a cure.

This is the third apocalyptic crime novel I’ve read in a year. In Ben H Winters’ Countdown City, the US is in the grip of asteroid paranoia as they feverishly await the destruction of the world by an object from space while in Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer extreme climate change has brought about an equally lawless society. What differentiates Louise Welsh’s book is that it opens when everything appears to be normal. Admittedly, people are sneezing on the London underground and sickness absence is rising in the workplace but it takes a while for the epidemic to take hold. This allows the death of Dr Simon Sharkey to take centre place in the narrative and for us to see Stevie’s character develop from a happy-go-lucky TV presenter to a determined avenger of his death.

The scenes involving the reaction to the spread of the virus are horribly realistic. People’s actions range from the altruistic to determinedly self protectionist and as Stevie is seen as the key to surviving the illness she in turn becomes the hunted. As I’d expect with this setting, there are some heart-wrenching moments and one character in particular I was gutted to see die. But given that this book is the first in a trilogy, I’m sure there will be plenty of new characters to take its place.

The book isn’t out until the 20th March but a mixture of Welsh’s writing style and the subject matter made it impossible to resist. Thanks to Hodder for my review copy.

29 thoughts on “Review: Louise Welsh – A Lovely Way to Burn

  1. Interesting… dystopian isn’t usually a come-on for me. BUT – I do love Louise Welsh. I didn’t read The Cutting Room for ages because I thought it wasn’t my thing, I didn’t like the sound – in fact read a subsequent one of hers first. I like her writing so much, despite the sometimes-gruesome subject matter. But I’ve just checked, and I have a little catching up before I get to this one…. Nice review Sarah, thanks.


    1. Thanks Moira. Someone on my Facebook page has also expressed surprise at Welsh’s move to a dystopian setting. I love that sort of thing anyway but I’m sure her fans will also enjoy the move.


  2. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – Oh, this does look interesting. And Stevie sounds like a solid character. I always like to see characters grow and develop as a novel goes on. Like Moira I’m not usually one for dystopia, but this one sounds look a good, solid, realistic read.


  3. I loved ‘The Cutting Room’ but didn’t feel that anything else Welsh had written really lived up to it. However, this sounds interesting enough to tempt me back and I’ll certainly be looking out for it when it is published.


    1. Just looking at old reviews as I keep meaning to read this one. I agree re The Cutting Room; nothing has quite compared. I lived in the area it was set in, Glasgow’s West End, when it was set, so as ever it’s great to have a book set in a recognizable place. And Rilke was a great character.


  4. Glad to see this review. You had mentioned the book at a couple of blog comments and I was interested to see your reaction to it. I have a couple of books by Welsh but still haven’t read anything by her. Sounds very interesting.


  5. Okay, Sarah!
    I’m with you on this one! I don’t know how long it will take for me to get a hold of it in the US, but you can bet I’ll keep trying. I’m completely intrigued.


  6. OMG I can’t even read your review because I’ve seen the word plague and I just know I have to read it. I love plague stories (and plague non fiction….basically I love plague stuff). I shall save the review until I’ve tracked down a copy of the book


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  8. Sarah, thanks for the review and as well, mentioning the other two books in this genre for comparison. While outside of the crime fiction (CF) I blog about on Murder in Common I love dystopian books and am adding this to the reading list for when I need to refresh my CF brain.


        1. The curse for me is when I knock a pile over on the way to the loo at night and wake the household (and probably the one below too!) – my other half mumbles, “these f-ing books!”


  9. Interesting to see your list of other books combining apocalypse with crime. Tbh I found the crime side of this book disappointing, but I still want to read the rest of the trilogy.


    1. Hi Hannah – thanks for stopping by and commenting. Glad you enjoyed the novel ( I liked the crime element) and like you I’m looking forward to the rest of the trilogy.


  10. I love Louise’s writing (and not just because we briefly stayed in the same flat at Uni!) I’ve got this and am dying to get stuck into it – but I do wish she’d write another one set in Glasgow. She really captured the West End of the city in The Cutting Room – it’s definitely my favourite of hers, and I loved Rilke, her protagonist. Great to see she’s being so heavily promoted since moving from Canongate to Hachette UK.


    1. Hi Linda – thanks for stopping by and commenting. I haven’t read The Cutting Room but it comes highly recommended. I met Louise in January – glad to hear you know her too!


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