Dean’s previous books have had a Swedish setting, but with The Last Thing to Burn (Hodder, £12.99) he has relocated to an isolated East Anglian farm — carrying with him the dark Nordic sensibility that pervaded his earlier work. Can Thanh Dao escape her abusive husband, who is holding her captive? This is every bit as accomplished as Dean’s previous books, but its unrelenting narrative of spousal cruelty is not for the fainthearted.
Will Dean’s narrator “can feel bone shards scraping together, six-year-old shards” in her ankle, as The Last Thing to Burn opens. She hobbles across the fields, desperate to escape the hell in which she has been living. But the vast flats of the east Midlands defeat her, and her captor drives up in a tractor to take her back to his tumbledown cottage. ... The Last Thing to Burn is one of the best thrillers I have read in years: I consumed it in great gulps, desperate to find out how Thanh Dao’s story played out, and then read it again, more slowly, savouring her courage and her unvanquished sense of self, despite everythin
In an isolated farm amid the fens of East Anglia, Leonard imprisons the Vietnamese immigrant wife he purchased. In constant pain from the injury he inflicted on her ankle, Thanh Dao is kept under surveillance in a cottage surrounded by a vast expanse of flat, muddy fields, with only her memories of her family and her few remaining possessions to keep her sane. The misery becomes ever more tense and claustrophobic when a well-meaning neighbour gets involved, and the tone remains unremittingly grim throughout, but this is a true nail-biter; you’ll be rooting for the astonishingly resilient heroine all the way.
Will Dean has changed publishers and direction. This is a short, sharp shocker, burning with righteous anger, intended to highlight the evils of human trafficking. A Vietnamese woman, stuck in the middle of the British countryside with her pig-farmer husband, is physically and psychologically abused. And that’s that.
Dean laudably combines gaslighting and modern slavery in this set-up, but it makes for a necessarily repetitive and relentlessly grim read: as if Beckett had tackled the Bluebeard story, although without his merciful moments of poetry and humour.