Detective Kieran Temple is woken by a 4am phone call from his ex-partner, Mia Burrows. She’s just killed her boyfriend. Compelled to investigate the death, Temple finds he must do so behind the backs of his superiors and his wife. All evidence supports Mia’s claims, that she was defending herself against a maniac. But as he delves deeper, Temple learns of a complex and dysfunctional relationship, one that’s been manipulated from the start. With his gut telling him that Mia’s boyfriend was not the brute he’s being made out to be, Temple is determined to get answers while everyone – including Mia herself – just want it left alone.
Burning Matches is Paul FitzsSimons’ accomplished debut novel. Tackling the telling of a single incident in the lives of five central characters, he weaves their individual plot lines intricately around one another, incorporating each into the life of the others in such a way that the most minor of incidents for one character can have major repercussions for another. While this can be very satisfying for the reader there is also a touch of soap opera around how the characters are fleshed out and how they interact with each other, especially Detective Temple and his exchanges with his superiors. This said, Burning Matches is a very engaging read but it also seems like it is trying a bit too hard, to be a bit cleverer than it actually is. Is Burning Matches a crime novel, a police procedural thriller, a romantic drama or a psychological chiller? It is all of these and unfortunately none of them as well as it touches upon each of those genres without fully committing to one or another leaving the reader a little underwhelmed or confused as to the type of novel he/she is reading. Kieran Temple, the detective investigating the murder at the centre of the plot flits in and out of the novel with alarming ease, throwing the reader off kilter. Yet Fitzsimons’s talent lies in juggling these characters, using flashback to flesh out the events that steer the plot to the death of a man in the opening chapter.
But, if you are expecting a Jo Nesbo style thriller then you will be sadly disappointed. What Fitzsimons does give us though is a very interesting take on manipulation and how, according to Shakespeare, human lives are “as flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.” This is his major triumph, in crafting a plotline to weave through and around the lives of his central characters, displaying a cold and calculating sociopathic insight into how we, as humans, manipulate not only the people around us but also our environments, for our own ends. The only negative to this is that Fitzsimons does not plumb as deeply as I would have liked, there is a darkness to this novel that is only touched upon, a tantalising and infuriating taste of what he as a writer and what his characters are capable of. No one in the book is 100% likeable, but no one can be truly hated either and I found this to be as interesting as it was annoying, interesting in the sense that each of the characters surprise you with how they react, but annoying as it does not generate any direct sympathy or empathy for any character.
There are a few minor subplots that, as mentioned earlier, stray towards melodrama or soap opera. These needed a defter hand or a more engaging premise as, as it stands, they serve no real function to the plot. Some of the characters also require further thought and fleshing out, but the central characters stand on their own and pull you into the plot in a most satisfying way. While there may be loose ends and thin moments in Burning Matches, overall it is a satisfying and page turning novel that may make you think twice about why you do what you do and how it will affect those around you. At the end of the day, isn’t this what fiction is all about?