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by Libby Fischer Hellmann
Allium, December 2010
360 pages
ISBN: 0984067655

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The late 60s were a turbulent time in America's history, with groups such as the Black Panthers and SDS being born to address the social issues of the time. The situation explodes at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, with riots on the streets. Many social activists and idealistic students flocked to Chicago to try to change the world. As the riots rage, six young people meet in the streets and decide to share an apartment as they pursue their individual agendas. Among them are Dar Gantner, who assumes a leadership role and who becomes the lover of Alix Kerr, daughter of a prominent businessman; Payton who moves into more extreme solutions along with Teddy Markham, who later becomes a presidential candidate; an artist named Rain, and Casey Hilliard, who is in love with Alix.

Now it's forty years later, and various members of the sextet have died suspiciously. The latest incident involves Casey Hilliard and his son, Danny, who die in a house fire. Danny's twin sister, Lila, was not at home at the time; but her life has also been threatened. Due to past connections, Dar feels compelled to look out for her; when they finally meet, they join forces to fight the evil that has its roots in the past. Lila has another reason for working with Dar. She has never known her mother, and her father never spoke of her. Through her own efforts, she finds out about the 60s commune and is hoping that Dar can provide her with the information that she so desperately seeks.

The narrative transitions from the present day to the late 60s and back again. Hellmann has done a superlative job with the 60s Chicago setting. I felt as though I had entered a time machine and been transported back. She makes the entire time come alive, recreating a historical time in perfect detail. That entire section of the narrative was fascinating to me, as it was so well done.

The segments dealing with the present were less successful. In order to create suspense and keep up the pace, there were several scenarios that just didn't feel credible. For example, unsuccessful attempts are made on Lila's life several times. And as the denouement unfolds, she becomes an accomplished markswoman, despite the fact that she has just learned how to shoot a weapon. I also had a little trouble getting into the book—characters were introduced without being placed into context. But once the narrative moved on, I found that the six main characters were very well developed, all memorable in their own unique way.

Despite the flaws that I've mentioned, I found SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE to be a book that I quite enjoyed due to the excellent rendition of Chicago in the late 60s. I was a college student during that time and it brought back a flood of memories of a turbulent time that led to lasting changes in American life.

§ Formerly a training development manager for a large company, Maddy is now retired and continues to enable the addiction of crime fiction fans as owner of the online discussion group, 4 Mystery Addicts(4MA), while avidly reading in every possible free moment herself.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, February 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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