Friday, February 26, 2021

FFB-SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE-LIbby Fisher Hellmann

 (From the archives,
2010)

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.


10 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Oh, I'd heard this was a good one, Patti! I'm so glad you reminded me of it, because I've een wondering whether to put it on my 'to read' list. Glad you enjoyed it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, Margot! Still miss your blog.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Other authors who have used '60s radicalism in their mysteries include Lia Matera. It's been a long time since I read her books, but I think her main series character was a "red diaper baby" whose mother was a radical, and who became a lawyer in Berkeley. Wendy Hornsby's main character is a documentary filmmaker, but her sister was a '60s radical, which is dealt with in one of the books.

George said...

You had me at "thrilling read"! I also enjoy reading books about the Sixties. A lot happened back then!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have never read Matera or Hornsby, Jeff.

Jeff Meyerson said...

We both finally gave up on Matera because we found her main series character (she had two series) so obnoxious and annoying. I think you might like the Hornsby books. The characters are older (40s rather than 20s) and the stories are interesting. I still have three later ones on the shelf yet to read. She also had a collection of stories published by Crippen & Landru in 2002. Her short story "Nine Sons" won the 1992 Edgar. It was also the name of the C & L collection.

Jerry House said...

Probably the best Sixties-related mystery I have read was THE BIG FIX by Roger Simon. I didn't take place in the Sixties, but by golly!, the vibe was there. It was made into a throughly entertaining flick starring Richard Dreyfuss. Many people my age can easily identify with the pretagonist, Moses Wine.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Loved THE BIG FIX. And the movie too. Wish they had made more films about that character.
Thanks, Jeff. I may have read one by Hornsby. Some of titles are familiar.

TracyK said...

The subject is intriguing, I will look into the book. I have heard of the author but not read anything by her.

Todd Mason said...

Roger Simon took a hard right-turn politically, and it was strongly reflected in the later Moses Wine novels.

"Recently" (even in 2010) suddenly became the catch for me, when I realized that such things as Marcia Muller's TROPHIES AND DEAD THINGS and Elmore Leonard's FREAKY DEAKY were more than two decades old by eleven years ago, even if the McCone stories by Muller touch back on the character's '60s adventures and those of her friends and contemporaries (and seniors) a fair amount.