I love periodically reading little-known authors because more often than not you get these unique gems with interesting characters and clever changes to crime and thriller plots. A Burning in the Darkness is one of those books that demonstrates creativity and some fascinating storylines.
The prologue is startling and you ponder what cruel actions led to a woman dying while holding onto a plane ticket, presumably to safety. By the time the story returns to the prologue moment, you’re much more invested in the characters and the events are distressing and heart-breaking.
Michael Kieh is a priest responsible for administering his duty at a London airport, for those that stop by in need of spiritual support or guidance. While taking the confession of a man in the darkened confessional he recognises who it is and this person has asked for absolution for his recent sin of murdering a young woman. A young woman that Michael was preparing to elope with – Joan Macintosh. He tells, Michael of her hidden location and when he frantically arrives, she’s barely alive but moments later two police detectives appear and all the evidence points to Michael being responsible.
From the point-in-time of the prologue, the reader is taken back to 2 different time periods of Michael’s life and each is told alternating chapter by chapter until we reach the prologue event again. One is his horrific experience 20 years earlier as a 12-year-old boy in Liberia, where he witnesses the massacre of his family and barely manages to escape. He eventually seeks refuge in a Sisters of Christ King compound where he is hidden and protected, and where he meets a young girl, Leonie, whom he grows up with and forms an extremely close bond. Major elements of these experiences are what has driven Michael to the priesthood but also enable him to experience the love that he can have for a woman.
The second time period is just 4 months prior to the prologue. This period involves Michael meeting Joan for the first time and gradually getting to know and develop feelings for her. He comes to realise a serious crime that she and her husband are connected to, which also involves a murdered Romanian family.
It was a strange book in the sense that I was compelled to keep reading but was frustrated with plot holes and events that just didn’t tie things together properly. There are multiple threads running throughout the story, each intriguing and absorbing, however, the weaving of them together wasn’t compelling enough and it left me feeling that opportunities to involve characters or introduce complexity into the overall storyline were missed.
The priest-related narrative is a very interesting context and it does provide the human and spiritual conflicts that Catholic priests face between their celibate relationship with the church and their feelings of attraction they may have for another ADULT. Core to this story is the commitment a priest makes to be the conduit between a confessor and God, and keep the details of the confession private. Michael is developed as a really great character, a man that genuinely wants to do good in the world, a man that struggles with the commitment of priesthood and his personal aspirations, and a priest that upholds the sanctity of the confessional even though he knows it would be much easier if he revealed the details to the police and help save himself.
I felt the last part of the book could have provided a better balance to the story, and there was considerable opportunity to develop a really enthralling aspect to the novel – maybe even a follow-on story. In my humble opinion, I feel the author could have improved the balance and flow between threads by using a good editor.
I would recommend this book and rate it 3.5 stars. I would like to thank A.P. McGrath for providing me with a copy in return for an honest review.