Attorney Abby returns to a hometown fraught with bad childhood memories (and bonfires) to work on a case.
When resolving thrillers, authors sometimes use what I think of as the Scooby Doo resolution.
They newly revealed crook proclaims, “Yeah, I did it! And I woulda gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!” then proceeds to explain the entire plan in great detail. All the double crosses, wrong turns, and switcheroos are revealed, as if the criminal has just been waiting for the moment to proclaim his or her genius.
I’m happy to suspend disbelief for thrillers. After all, the thought of these things happening in real life and my reading them for escapist entertainment would be horrific. Not everything has to be true to what would happen in the real world.
But still, there’s something disingenuous about the Scooby Doo resolution. It’s just too neat, wrapping the proverbial gift up with razor-straight edges and a perfectly tied bow. Miranda rights and trials and plea bargains do not exist in this world. It seems like a lazy way out of what had, up to then, been a fantastic build-up.
While I won’t give away the ending of Bonfire, I will say its biggest disappointment for me is the Scooby Doo climax.
Also disappointing is how completely and publicly Abby falls apart through the telling of this story. It doesn’t quite seem true to her character. For her to have pulled her life together and become an attorney with a respected firm, Abby would have possessed no small amount of resilience and fortitude.
To go drinking at a bonfire with the same people who tortured her in high school, the same people she’s investigating in a huge environmental lawsuit, seems absurd. That level of unprofessionalism and ethical conflict conveys a lack of consideration that would have precluded her from achieving her position in the law firm in the first place. It simply wouldn’t have happened. And honestly, who even has regular high school-style keggers on the beach in their adult lives?
Flawed characters are my cup of tea. I love a good, messy, ambiguous person. But Abby’s messiness seems forced to elicit more thrills and pathos; not in keeping with the person she had become.
It’s almost as if her character is hamming it up for the camera.
Despite these criticisms, Bonfire is still an interesting story with an interesting premise. I hope Ritter will continue to hone her writing with sharper character development. It’s not a bad debut, and makes me optimistic to see where her next book goes.