Wednesday, December 01, 2010

First Wednesdays Book Review Club



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.

Highly recommended.

Check out more reviews today at Barrie's place.


15 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Thanks for this review. I like the idea of the passion of that radicalism all wrapped up in a crime fiction plot. It just sounds like a good fit, and I'm glad you enjoyed the book. What a really interesting-sounding read!

Anonymous said...

I've read other mysteries that make use of that background, including one of Lia Matera's series.

To be honest I didn't care much for the one of Hellman's books I read but this one sounds a lot more interesting.

Jeff M.

Jenn Jilks said...

Interesting book! Not sure I liked the 60s, but it might be worth reading. Great review!

Scott Parker said...

Although I never lived in the time (born in '68), I have a great love for all things late 60s. That Hillman wraps late 60s history into a mystery is more than enough to get me there. Does Hillman have her characters talk about the music of the time?

pattinase (abbott) said...

No, she is mostly concerned with the radical politics within this group and what they are willing to do. The majority of the book is set in the now but resonates with what happened then.

Anonymous said...

In the Lia Matera series I mentioned she is a "Red Diaper baby" and her parents are still radicals.

Jeff M.

David Cranmer said...

Interesting concept. I haven't read Hellmann yet but you have piqued my interest. And Scott is older than me? Geez, I thought he was a whipper-snapper of thirty-three or so.

Scott Parker said...

Aye, it appears to be so. And I turn another year older on Monday.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Happy Birthday, Scott. And you are all babies to me.

Sarah Laurence said...

Sounds interesting. Thanks for sharing. I was too young to remember much of the 60s sadly. It sounds like an interesting time.

Todd Mason said...

No, no, Patti...ain't none of us babies any more. TROPHIES AND DEAD THINGS by Marcia Muller. Hell, FIRST HUBBY by Roy Blount, Jr., but there somewhat less seriously.

wv: beatlhype

(We did have the noted philosophy historian Thelma Z. Lavine note very soberly to our class that the Beatles were a completely successful example of utter hype over substance. Hey, it worked for Zims)

Ellen Booraem said...

You are all so heartbreakingly YOUNG!!! (I graduated from high school when you were a year old, Scott.) Anyway, it's high time the sixties got their due as a historical setting, and this book sounds like it uses the era very well. Thanks for the tip!

Barrie said...

Oh, Patti, you always write such good reviews! Looking forward to meeting you IRL. ;)

Stacy said...

That sounds incredible! I definitely need to get my hands on a copy.

Sarahlynn said...

Ooooh, as a fan of Sara Paretsky - whose VI Warshawski novels frequently touch on 60's politics in Chicago - you've really caught my interest with this review!