A good trope in mystery is a protagonist whose memory, for one reason or another, has been wiped. This is the case in Chad Dundas’ latest novel, The Blaze, when Iraq War vet Matthew Rose loses much of his long-term memory after an explosion and subsequent traumatic brain injury.
The blaze of the book’s title is a mystery in itself, as the story features two fires. The first blaze we learn about happens just as Matt returns to his Montana hometown to collect his dead father’s effects. The second happened at the town’s candy store when Matt was a child. Though Matt remembers little else in his past, he does remember that candy-store fire. Why?
On top of this, a strange young woman died in the latest fire, and since it was ruled a crime of arson, we now have a murder in the mix. Matt’s gut tells him this blaze is related to the candy-store fire, but it would be tough to see the connection even if his memory were working the way it should.
Dundas patiently builds layer upon layer of clues, like pastry and butter in the best croissant. Who was that vagrant that Matt almost ran into when he first arrived in town, the guy in the long coat who smelled of gasoline? Who was Abbie Green, the woman who died in the house fire? Why is everyone in town being so closemouthed about her? And why would anybody want to kill her? Matt doesn’t remember this, but everyone says he changed for the worse after the candy-store fire. Why? And why did he and his dad fall out? Or did they?
Writing a thriller that’s engrossing from beginning to end is tough. Some readers might figure out the culprit early on, but figuring out the “why” will keep them hooked. Dundas knows how to keep things simmering, and his cracking good mystery kept this reviewer up at night. It just might keep you up at night, too.