The Last Thing To Burn by Will Dean #BookReview #BlogTour

He is her husband. She is his captive.

Her husband calls her Jane. That is not her name.

She lives in a small farm cottage, surrounded by vast, open fields. Everywhere she looks, there is space. But she is trapped. No one knows how she got to the UK: no one knows she is there. Visitors rarely come to the farm; if they do, she is never seen.

Her husband records her every movement during the day. If he doesn’t like what he sees, she is punished.

For a long time, escape seemed impossible. But now, something has changed. She has a reason to live and a reason to fight. Now, she is watching him, and waiting . . .

I am honoured to be hosting the blog tour for The Last Thing To Burn today. Huge thanks to Will Dean and to Jenny Platt at Hodder for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.

Her name is not Jane. Identity - or more correctly, the erosion of identity lies at the heart of this incredible novel. The Last Thing To Burn is a horrifying, heart-stopping thriller but it is also an intense, intimate portrait of courage and resilience under the most harrowing of conditions. Jane's real name is Thanh Dao and she lives in the Fens with her husband, Lenn. His insistence that she answers to Jane might seem as if it's only a small example of the complete control he holds over her life but it represents the fear she has that she is disappearing as surely as the possessions he burns every time he decides she deserves to be punished.
Lenn is unquestionably one of the most terrifying villains I can ever remember reading and it's his ordinariness which makes him so chilling. He resorts to acts of brutal violence on occasion but it's the quiet coercion and threats, interspersed with moments of apparent kindness that make him such a monster. We don't discover much about why Lenn is how he is, however, there is enough here for readers to make their own mind up about why this brute of a man, who has lived his whole life in this isolated cottage, seems to believe that his actions are entirely justifiable. The scenes where he declares that they have a pretty good life together are sickening because it's here that we truly realise that he is absolutely convinced that he is in the right and that 'Jane' is his to do with as he pleases.
The book is narrated in the first person and is a profoundly affecting exploration of human exploitation. We all know that people trafficking and modern day slavery is happening right now but having it personalised, even through a fictional character is extraordinarily effective. The horrific treatment of refugees and asylum seekers ceases to be something that happens to an unfortunate yet faceless multitude and becomes devastatingly real. When Lenn burns yet another of the few possessions that she owns, when he watches her every movement on the cameras he has set up throughout the house, when he informs her she must have a bath before bed, the oppressive hopelessness feels almost unbearably overwhelming.
The sense of place is evoked with a vividness that means The Last Thing To Burn is an uncomfortably immersive experience. The wide open fenland setting is ironically claustrophobic, the flat landscape giving Lenn an unfettered view of the depressing, isolated farmhouse and ensuring Thanh Dao has little hope of ever managing to escape. His threats and punishments are delivered with cruel precision and yet throughout her years of captivity, despite losing so much of herself, she has somehow managed to retain her humanity. She is still able to find the smallest moments of pleasure, through something as simple as a few licks of a boiled sweet or through the words of the strikingly relevant 'Of Mice and Men' and as the book progresses, it also becomes evident that although she has been subjected to unimaginable physical and mental torture, she hasn't lost her capacity for empathy. 
A sinister, supremely taut nightmare, bleakly powerful yet written with compassionate authenticity throughout, The Last Thing To Burn is utterly magnificent and whatever I say here is unlikely to truly do it justice; it is undoubtedly one of the best books I have ever had the privilege to read.

The Last Thing To Burn is published by Hodder & Stoughton. Purchasing links can be found here but please consider supporting independent bookstores whenever possible, either by ordering directly or through

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

About the Author
Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands and had lived in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying Law at the LSE and working in London, he settled in rural Sweden where he built a house in a boggy clearing at the centre of a vast elk forest, and it's from this base that he compulsively reads and writes. His debut novel, Dark Pines, was selected for Zoe Ball's Book Club, shortlisted for the Guardian Not the Booker prize and named a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year. Red Snow was published in January 2019 and won Best Independent Voice at the Amazon Publishing Readers' Awards, 2019.