Book Review : Neliza Drew - All the Bridges Burning (2016)
I sat in the car and looked at my hands. There was blood there no one else could see. A lot of it was mine.
I used to read fiction for guns and gritty one-liners. Everything changed when I discovered Dennis Lehane and his working class tragedy that proposed exciting stories of domestic nightmares I could relate to. Lehane made detectives and various sleuths feel "adult" in a way no other author really did before. Neliza Drew's first novel All the Bridges Burning is one of these new school "adult" crime novels that rely on domestic themes and tremendous craft in order to carve an identity for itself. It was quite successful I must admit. All the Bridges Burning is very much a first novel, but it's polished and comes with a set of fangs other first novels usually lack.
Davis Groves is the middle sister of a fractured family. The three Groves girls don't really have a father and their mother suffers from recurring psychotic breakdowns enhanced by the use of several different drugs. Davis ran away from her chaotic family many years ago, but a confused phone call from her mother Charley brings her back to her home town: her baby sister Lane has been charged with gunning down her boyfriend. Armed with perspective, guns and a burning heart, Davis begins investigating the crime Lane has been charged with only to find a sprawling cover up that threatens to annihilate the person she's become.
Neliza Drew's All the Bridges Burning sure has a fun and intricate mystery to untangle, but its calling card is its Updikian realism. It is, first and foremost, a family saga about the damage caused by growing up around drugs and mental illness. Drew has a strong command of first person narration and an ear for dialogue that carry the long and complicated series of investigation and interrogations to success. All the Bridges Burning requires patience and involvement from the reader (if you don't have patience for mental illness stories, this might wear out quick on you), but it offers big time reward in the wild second half which draws inspiration from Joe Lansdale's notorious East Texas investigators Hap & Leonard.
"You think I'm your daughter and you care, but I'm not. You care too much, Tom."
"No such thing."
"The only one who ever gave a damn about me before was Nik. But we're adults now."
"Being an adult doesn't mean your loved ones stop loving you."
I had no answer to that.
Unfortunately, Captain Nit Picky has a couple things to say too. Neliza Drew is a first time novelist and while her solid game carries her over a lot of pitfalls, she made a couple "first time novelist" moves in All the Bridges Burning. For example, it starts strong but it keeps the same pace for its entire duration. It's a 300 page mystery. There's no real surprise or change of direction. No real atmosphere or sense of place either. She also has a tendency to oversell her point. She feeds the reader what to think about her characters, not trusting the strength of her own writing (which is plenty strong). But these are not "make or break" issues by any means. These jumped to me because they clashed with the overall quality of the novel, but they did not undermine my enjoyment much.
Few authors master the first person narration the way Neliza Drew does. Her protagonist Davis Groves, who's supposed to come back in a subsequent volume, succeeds where so many attempts at writing badass female characters failed because of her complex nature. She's a survivor that overcame hurt and trauma, yet it left her so dispossessed that she doesn't find anyone to help really outside of the family that turned its back on her. There's a tragic edge to Davis Groves' courage that other characters simply don't carry. All the Bridges Burning was a very strong and enjoyable first novel and hinted at the incredible storytelling potential of Neliza Drew. Toughness done well, stark realism and a strong mystery are the calling cards of All the Bridges Burning. Make sure to check it out if you're into that!