Review written & published on Criticalwrit.com
There's something to be said about the expression “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and the self-published Molly: House on Fire, by R.E. Bradshaw, is one of those books that require us to go beyond the cover to get a measure of how good they are. And frankly, with the somewhat uninspired title and a cover that pains the eyes, I didn’t go into the book with good expectations. It turned out, however, to be a solid mystery novel.
Molly Kincaid is a hot-shot defense attorney. In fact, she’s one of the best there is, but when a call from her past disrupts her steady lifestyle, her childhood comes crashing back down on her. At home, there aren’t many people who really know about her— That she was born Molly Harris, a poor child in the South, she was “white trash” as they call it, and that she killed her father at a young age to stop his abuse on her mother. Given up for adoption at the age of ten by a mother who could no longer take care of her, she vowed to make a new life and hadn’t looked back once. But Joe, the police officer who had helped Molly and her mother back then, is dying, and he needs her help in a case fraught with danger. There’s a murderer on the loose, and he seems keenly interested in an old legend about lost Confederate gold… Soon, questions arise and the very things Molly had believed to be true for thirty years crumble under her.
Going back to her birth town is difficult for Molly, and she soon realizes nobody really forgot the kid she was, and it’ll prove to be to her advantage as she crashes into town to bring justice. The story reminds me of a spaghetti western movie, down to a colorful and solid secondary cast who rises to her side. And help she will need as she works to prove that Joey, Joe’s autistic grandson, didn’t kill his mother, especially if it means finding who the real killer might be. Bradshaw’s portrayal of Joey and of autism is excellent and I deeply enjoyed seeing an autistic individual that for once didn’t fall into the well-worn category of Sherlock-type quirky geniuses. Working with Joey brings Molly to meet Leslie, a psychologist and Joey’s teacher, and she soon finds that she cannot keep her mind (and her eyes) off the woman. She’ll have to do just that however, because her father’s family is still around, and they’re every bit as vile and dangerous as he was.
The mystery elements occupy most of the story and while the book takes time to introduce us to side characters from Bradshaw’s previous novels, it doesn't stray too far. The mystery starts slowly and Bradshaw is good at pacing the rise of tension throughout the book. By the time the pieces started all falling into place, I was anxious to see the story reach its climax. One of the things I especially liked about this book, was that the main character isn’t alone against those who would do her harm. A lot of books pit their hero against impossible odds but Bradshaw is good at introducing helpful side characters without clogging the narrative.
I also thought that the romance elements were a tad too awkward. I didn’t feel much chemistry between Leslie and Molly despite their occasional friendly banter. Leslie probably would have benefited from being more closely tied to the plot, but as it stands, she hovers on the edge of the narrative without real use beyond being here for Molly’s character development. Perhaps it is because I’m more accustomed to romance taking a bigger place than it does in this book, but I also found her to be somewhat shallowly written, and we never learn much about her. We know she shares Molly’s love of ridiculously high-priced fast cars, and is a caring person toward her protégé, but… that’s about it. I’m not usually picky when it comes to lesbian romance, but I felt very unsatisfied with this one.
Molly: House on Fire may not be a groundbreaking read, but it is a solid mystery novel that doesn’t lack suspense and that has the merit of tackling difficult subjects like domestic violence and what happens when people close their eyes on the suffering of victims: a downward spiral of more violence and pain.