The Last Thing To Burn – Will Dean
CW: gore, physical violence/injury, rape.
Like Witness X, I heard about this book way before it was available in Canada and so I got my Mum who lives in the UK to mail me a copy. The Last Thing To Burn comes out in Canada on April 20, 2021.
So I’ll preface this review by telling you that although I’ve been hearing a lot about Will Dean, I haven’t read any of his previous books. I’m not interested in starting a series right now as I’m keeping my reading choices pretty varied (many that aren’t suited to MuderMuder.news) and committing to a series felt too heavy. I saw this title doing the rounds on Twitter and had to get my hands on a copy.
I have to be honest and say that I felt immediately uncomfortable about the fact that I’m reading a white male author writing a story whose protagonist is a Vietnamese female who has been trafficked into the country. For a while, I couldn’t shake the very many feelings that were coming up for me here. However, I kept erring on the side of ‘this is okay’ because I feel strongly that these stories need to be told. These women need to have their voices heard and white men should use their position of privilege to amplify them. So, with that in mind and acknowledging that Dean had a Vietnamese friend read the book in it’s early stages and shares details to human trafficking victims charities in the book, I accept this statement Dean made in a Guardian article about the book:
All of that said, which may not factor into your opinion about the book at all, this is an incredibly tense horror-thriller that I could not put down. It’s a relatively short book, so that coupled with the fact that I ploughed through this at what felt like double my usual reading speed. Dean writes suspense in this absolutely excruciating blend of peril and banality that I haven’t seen elsewhere. The everyday becomes the horrific and the simple becomes impossibly complex.
In every horror movie with a female protagonist where she’s running up the stairs from her killer rather than out of the front door, I scream at the screen in frustration and I’m irritated by the one-dimensionality of peril, panic and associated action. Freedom feels so clearly attainable, so often in these stories. Not here. Dean reminds us in stark detail of the true nature of physical and mental captivity which stops the thoughts of an easy escape dead in their tracks.
Dean takes on impossibly delicate issues like power dynamics between abusive men and their female victims, racialised abuse, rape and even childbirth with, as was his intention, incredible empathy. He builds up the layers of torment of our protagonist Thanh Dao and lays bare every detail of her horror. Our hope for her rescue is built up and destroyed repeatedly, we’re right along with her for this journey.
This story paints a dark picture of what is a reality for many. An important, if difficult read. I think this story is the very definition of harrowing. This story is a bold exposure of the monsters that live among us.