Set the Night on Fire by Libby Fischer Hellmann is one of the few books I’ve read in recent years that uses sixties’ radicalism in a crime fiction plot. And uses it to good avail. Hellmann tells an interesting story with just the right amount of attention to the climate of the sixties to anchor it. Her characters are fleshed out well, and we come to care about them in the past and in the present.
Dar Gartner is newly released from jail after serving a long prison sentence for an act of radicalism. In trying to put a new life together in Chicago, he also touches base with some members of his old group of friends. Friends who begin to die after his re-entry into their lives. His life seems in jeopardy as well.
One of the friends who dies is the father of Lila Hilliard. Hilliard, along with Lila's brother, perish in a house fire seemingly caused by faulty Christmas tree lights. Except Lila remembers unplugging the lights before she went out. As she investigates her father’s business affairs and the fire, her own life is threatened and she realizes there were things about her father and his tale of her long-dead mother that never quite added up.
So Lila and Dar begin circling each other, Lila wary at first, until in desperation they collectively put the puzzle together. Both are at risk and neither knows precisely where the threat is coming from, but both eventually conclude it's coming from past activities of the group of friends.
The reader travels back to the late sixties and watches the group of women and men living together, making the decisions that will effect the rest of their life. Through their circle, we're treated to insight into the types of young people drawn to radicalism and what price they were willing to pay to reform society. And also, what lengths they were willing to go to to cover their trail and how that history impacts the present.
The race of Lila and Dar to piece together the plot against them and act swiftly enough to save their lives makes this a thrilling read.
This was a very fine and compelling story.
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