Book Review: Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

Title: Bonfire
Author: Krysten Ritter
Publisher: Cornerstone Digital & Windmill Books (Penguin RandomHouse)
Publication Date: 9 November 2017 (ePub & hardback), 9 August 2018 (paperback)
Twitter: @krystenritter


Nothing burns as bright as the truth.
It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.
But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s economic heart, she begins to find strange connections to a decade-old scandal involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.
But as Abby tries desperately to find out what happened to Kaycee, troubling memories begin to resurface and she begins to doubt her own observations. And when she unearths an even more disturbing secret, her search threatens the reputations, and lives, of the community and risks exposing a darkness that may consume her.
With tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote, rural town of five claustrophobic miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of what happens when your past and present collide.


Bonfire is the debut novel from Krysten Ritter, author and actress, best known for her roles in Jessica Jones and Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23.

The main storyline is based around a suspected corporate cover-up in rural America.  Optimal Plastics is a large plastics conglomerate which has made its base in Barrens, Indiana and incorporated itself into every aspect of the town and community. 

Barrens is also the hometown of protagonist Abby Williams, an environmental lawyer working out of Chicago.  Despite her reluctance to ever return to Barrens, Abby finds herself back in town to investigate a case of potential poisoning against Optimal Plastics.

Abby’s return to Barrens proves to be awkward and unsettling.  Abby realises that, despite a decade having passed by, not much has really changed in the small town and everything she was trying to run away from is still there, simmering beneath the surface.  

With the local officials resenting her investigations into the company that puts money into the town and provides jobs for its citizens, Abby finds herself with a fight on her hands. Can she work out who may be profiting from Optimal Plastic’s dubious actions and whether the company really are responsible for poisoning the water?

There are a couple of main subplots to the story, the first being Abby facing up to her high school bullies.  Those teenage girls who made her so desperate to leave Barrens are now respected leaders of the community, yet Abby can’t forget their vindictive and malicious actions towards her.  Ritter depiction of the ‘mean girls’ is well-observed and sadly realistic.  The sickening cruelty that groups of bullies, particularly teenage girls, can show when a pack-mentality takes over is quite shocking, and Ritter captures this very well.  She also brings the bullying into the modern day by showing how much worse the bullying can become once technology/social media is involved.

The other subplot takes us back, once again, to Abby’s school days and a missing girl, Kaycee Mitchell. This involves an odd story of illness running amongst Kaycee and her spiteful friends, possibly due to mass hysteria, attention seeking or maybe even linked to the poisoning allegations that Abby is currently investigating. 10 years on and both Kaycee’s disappearance and the cause of the illness remain a mystery.

Bonfire is a dark and fast-paced thriller, with plenty of intrigue and action to grab the reader’s attention.  It is reminiscent of Erin Brockovich, but with a much more sinister undertone.  It is not a new premise, an estranged protagonist returning home and being forced to face up to an unresolved past, yet there is something captivating about the story, watching the individual threads weave together into a comprehensive tale of death, corruption and bullying.  It’s disturbing, suspenseful and totally gripping.

Bonfire proves to be an engaging debut and one which I really enjoyed. I look forward to reading more from Ritter in the future.

About the Author

KRYSTEN RITTER is well known for her starring roles in the award winning Netflix original series, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, and cult favorite, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, as well as her pivotal role on AMC’s Breaking Bad. Krysten’s work on film includes Big Eyes, Listen Up Philip, Life Happens, Confessions of a Shopaholic and She’s Out of My League. She is the founder of Silent Machine, a production company which aims to highlight complex female protagonists. Ritter and her dog Mikey split their time between New York and Los Angeles.

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