Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald #BookReview #BlogTour

Single-mother Fran returns to her sleepy hometown to care for her dying father when a devastating bush fire breaks out. A wry, bittersweet, heartbreaking disaster-noir thriller from the author of The Cry and Worst Case Scenario.

Fran hates Ash Mountain, and she thought she’d escaped. But her father is ill, and needs care. Her relationship is over, and she hates her dead-end job in the city, anyway.

She returns to her hometown to nurse her dying father, her distant teenage daughter in tow for the weekends. There, in the sleepy town of Ash Mountain, childhood memories prick at her fragile self-esteem, she falls in love for the first time, and her demanding dad tests her patience, all in the unbearable heat of an Australian summer.

As old friendships and rivalries are renewed, and new ones forged, Fran’s tumultuous home life is the least of her worries, when old crimes rear their heads and a devastating bushfire ravages the town and all of its inhabitants…

Simultaneously a warm, darkly funny portrait of small-town life – and a woman and a land in crisis – and a shocking and truly distressing account of a catastrophic event that changes things forever, Ash Mountain is a heart-breaking slice of domestic noir, and a disturbing disaster thriller that you will never forget…

I'm delighted to be hosting the blog tour for Ash Mountain today. Many thanks to Helen Fitzgerald, Orenda Books and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my advance copy of  the novel.

The bushfires that raged across Australia a few months ago, shocked the world and the stunning photo on the cover of Ash Mountain was taken by Robert Dixon who snapped his daughter, Ava in November 2019. It's a stark and fitting image for this mesmerising novel set among the secrets of a small Australian town sweltering in the oppressive heat of the summer.
The narrative meanders between the day of the fire itself, the days leading up to it and scenes set in the past when the main character, Fran was still a teenager. Opening with her return to her hometown, it's clear that although Fran doesn't begrudge having to come home to nurse her dying father, the memories that are stirred are less welcome. The claustrophobia of small-town life is so well evoked here - everybody knows everyone's business and they all remember the past. The plot slowly reveals Fran's earlier experiences with Helen Fitzgerald's customary sharp honesty and wry humour - after being forced to run from a group of boarding school boys attempting to molest her, Fran's father erected a three-metre high enclosure to house twelve ostriches,
'Fran would've rathered a gang-fingering that a prehistoric chastity belt, but her dad did not feel the same,'
The strength of Fran's relationship with her family is one of the most touching parts of the book, from her inventive care of her disabled dad, to the close friendship she has with Dante, the son she gave birth to as a fifteen-year-old girl, to her less certain yet entirely believable interactions with her captious teenage daughter, Vonny, it's clear  - at least to the reader -  that for all her self-doubting, she is more resolute and strong than she perhaps gives herself credit for. 
The approaching fire lends a constant sense of tension to the story but suspense also comes from the dark secrets of the past and how they may impact upon the present. There's a dramatic scene later in the book which is shocking yet cathartic in its finality. The scenes set during and immediately after the fire are terrifying and the vivid descriptions left me in no doubt of the devastation wrought or the human cost of a town ravaged by an inferno. There are some distressing moments here, with one particular scene that moved me to tears; Helen Fitzgerald never whitewashes the impact of such a fire and it's a sobering, upsetting reminder of the horrific experiences of so many Australian communities.
At its heart however, Ash Mountain is the story of a woman coming to terms with her past, acknowledging that painful memories and difficult secrets are universal and that although small towns may feel oppressive, it's their close ties which mean they share that pain,
'This town's no more shit than any other place,' she said. 'It's just that when you live in a small town, you know everyone, you know their tragedies and you feel their pain.' 
Insightful, witty and uncompromising, Ash Mountain is an unforgettable novel which is as moving as it is thrilling with a beautifully rendered, diverse cast of characters and an outstanding sense of place. Very highly recommended.

Ash Mountain is published by Orenda Books, it is available now as an ebook and from 20th May 2020 in paperback. Purchasing links can be found here but please consider supporting independent bookstores whenever possible.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

Helen FitzGerald is the bestselling author of ten adult and young adult thrillers, including The Donor (2011) and The Cry(2013), which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and is now a major drama for BBC1. Ash Mountain is the second title published with Orenda Books, after Worst Case Scenario. Helen worked as a criminal justice social worker for over fifteen years. She grew up in Victoria, Australia. She now lives in Glasgow with her husband.


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