Burning Meredith

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Apr 2018

Member Reviews

Burning Meredith

by Elizabeth Gunn

With the interruptions common in daily life, I never finish a book in one sitting, and I rarely complete a book the same day I start it. Burning Meredith was an exception. I did stay up late to finish reading it because it was such a good mystery. Due to its focus on police investigative techniques, it is considered a police procedural by those who like to subdivide the genre.

Burning Meredith centers around a huge forest fire in the south-central Montana mountains, destroying many acres and threatening little Clark’s Fort. If it is possible for a bad thing to be good, then this forest fire was it. The disaster breathed new life into the little weekly Clark’s Fort Guardian and provided opportunities for young, local photo-journalist Stuart Campbell to shine. Not afraid of hard work and familiar with the mountains, he manages to put the Meredith Mountain area on the map nationally.

I like the journalist character, but I truly associate with retired teacher Alice Adams who works for the paper as an editor, initially only a few days a week. As she says, “After thirty-two years of catching kids passing crib notes, you didn’t just stop on a dime. Shouldn’t there be a twelve-step plan for this transition?” She is a respected fixture in the community, as she has taught English and social studies to several generations of Clark’s Fort middle schoolers. She encourages her nephew Stuart in his journalistic efforts, and she provides invaluable assistance in solving the mystery of an unidentified man whose body is found after the fire has been controlled.

There are two major threads to this plot; the author initially shares these in separate chapters as unrelated storylines. The reader gets caught up in the reporting of the fire, and then suddenly there is this other direction that appears like an itch waiting to be scratched. Author Elizabeth Gunn’s writing is excellent in terms of the general plot and how it plays out and also in her turn of phrase. Some of Gunn’s prose is so good that I found myself rereading parts just to enjoy her choice of words, her descriptive excellence, or her metaphors. Many mysteries do not allow for much in the way of character development or they expend too much energy on the characters at the expense of the plot. Gunn hits the mark with her writing style. Her main characters are developed and interesting; her minor characters provide a nice backdrop.

Elizabeth Gunn has two series of police procedurals. Will Burning Meredith begin a new series? I could find no indication that it would or wouldn’t, but my opinion is that this book is a good basis for one.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Severn House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Police Procedural

Publication:   June 1, 2018—Severn House

Memorable Lines:

Like a bonus for a job well done, Clark’s Fort got a second freaky dose of luck. A surprise deflection in the polar vortex brought cold, moist air and a drastic dip in air pressure down across Canada and pouring into Montana.

“As you well know, Clark’s Fort doesn’t generate much news.”  “For sure. My street gets so quiet on August afternoons, I swear I can hear the bluebirds planning their trip south.”

She gave him the English teacher look that had brought silence to rooms full of eighth-grade miscreants for a generation.

…when the weather warmed up the country roads became mud-holes even  more impassable than the snow-drifts had been. People still had to get around, so they chained up and churned out, making ruts you could lose a spring calf in.
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Burning Meredith tells the fictional story of the Meredith Mountain fire, one of the biggest in Montana history. Young reporter Stuart Campbell makes a name for himself while embedded with the firefighters, documenting the battle with words and amazing photographs. In the aftermath of the fire, a body is found up on the mountain, a body nobody wants to claim. Stuart and his aunt Alice, an editor at the local newspaper, find themselves investigating as much as reporting as the townspeople clamor for information.

The first few chapters, reporting on the fire, read rather like a docu-drama and was really rather interesting; I learned quite a bit about forest-fire fighting from it. After the fire was over was when the book seemed to flounder a bit, though. Part of the problem was that there was never a clearly defined protagonist, and hence no clearly defined antagonist either. At least one person who had done something seriously awful (possession of child porn) wasn’t in any trouble by the end of the book, the murder victim and the killer turned out to be minor characters nobody cared much about… it read very much like small-town drama someone was trying to blow up out of all proportion, and frankly I found it a bit of a yawn. Stuart and Alice, the two people we got to know well enough to care about, were never in any sort of danger, and the end of the book came as a complete anti-climax, lots of loose ends left floating about. With no indication that this is a first in series, I can only conclude those ends will remain forever unresolved.

While this started well, I finished it distinctly dissatisfied. And WHY is the Kindle edition over $20? Seriously, I wouldn’t pay that for ANY ebook.

Two stars.
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"A huge mountain fire leaves destruction – and death – in its wake. But are the charred remains of a male body really the result of a natural disaster, or murder?

The Meredith Mountain fire starts on Labor Day weekend and rages for days – an awesome sight, leaving a trail of havoc and destruction in its wake. Alice Adams edits the Clark’s Fort Guardian newspaper, ably assisted by her nephew, Stuart Campbell, and the two cover the blaze for the paper, vowing the local community with their stunning photographs and features.

When the fire is finally contained and the mop-up crew discover a burned male body under a fallen log, Alice and Stuart investigate. It seems he died in the fire, but with no ID and nobody knowing anything about the body, they soon face a daunting task – and some disturbing revelations. Can they unravel the truth?"

I love murder hidden amongst chaos...
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A mountain fire burning out of control makes for heated reading.

Montana’s Meredith Mountain going up in flames is big news for the small town newspaper, the Guardian. Endearing, retired school teacher, Alice Adams, is helping her nephew, Stuart Campbell, to edit his news stories and generally help in the office. The Guardian is owned by the difficult Mort Weatherby. Stuart is young and inexperienced but his stories and photographs of the fire turn out to be excellent and very useful in more ways than just a news story. Not only are more papers sold and life is exciting for aunt and nephew, but a murder is solved as well.

A body is discovered in the ashes of the fire and an autopsy reveals that the cause of death was not the fire. Because of Stuart’s budding career as a journalist and his aunts’ keen interest in his career, they both look into a possible murder. Alice, the budding investigator, at her age of retirement and her niece Stuart provide likeable characters to follow.

The plot takes a turn away from the ‘burning’ issue at hand to some of Alice’s former pupils delving in drugs. This makes it a bit confusing because the thread is difficult to follow. However, the plot of the story eventually weaves twisted associations, particularly when Stuart’s photographs at the fire become vital.

Eventually, their passion, team spirit and hard work pay dividends and the murder mystery are uncovered. It was quite an astonishing end which eventually connected all the loose ends.

Even though I only gave the book 3 stars it is well worth reading.


Breakaway Reviewers received a copy of the book to review.
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This quick read (it's short) merges two topical subjects-opioids and the fate of small town newspapers- into a pretty darn good mystery.  Stuart didn't know what he was getting into when he went to photograph the results of the Meredith Mountain fire nor did his Aunt Alice.  However, once a body is discovered, they put themselves into the thick of the investigation.  Just enough twists make this a guessing game.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
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This is the perfect summer read, as it is short and really good.  I couldn’t put this down and read it in one sitting.
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The fire starts on Labor Day. Live embers left by Careless campers catch the wind and burn brush and trees. Soon all of Meredith Mountain is ablaze. Below the mountain in Clark's Fort, a rookie newspaper employee gets a lucky break. Stuart Campbell is sent to cover the fire. He spends days on the mountain with the fire crews sending back photos and notes on the emergency. His Aunt Alice edits his notes into stories. The local weekly paper, the Guardian, runs with the story, gathering national accolades for its coverage of the huge forest fire. When the last of the fire is out and the mountain is just smoking, firemen make a gruesome discovery - an expensive athletic shoe hanging halfway up a tree. Below it under some burned logs, a charred body. When the autopsy report points to murder, Alice and Stuart find themselves investigating a mystery. Who is the dead man? And who killed him?

At 182 pages, this book is a quick read, but a really enjoyable suspense story! I spent 10 years as a small town reporter, so I totally identified with the two main characters. It's hard to keep up with front page news when you are also selling ads, editing copy, taking the photos, and getting the paper printed on time. Alice is feisty, standing up to her boss, interviewing people for info on the murder and editing the stories for the Guardian. I really like her character. Stuart is tenacious and has that new reporter wild excitement to him....he loves taking photos and covering the fire and murder case. His Aunt is his strong support, editing his notes into strong stories and helping him with interviews and ideas. Great characters! This story definitely kept my attention from beginning to end. It moved at a perfect pace with plenty of interesting clues and investigation. 

This is the first book by Elizabeth Gunn that I've read. I enjoyed this story so much that I will definitely be reading more of her books! 

**I voluntarily read an advance readers copy of this book from Severn House via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**
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.I have long been a fan of Elizabeth Gunn's police procedurals. I am very happy to read this book a start of a new series. Meredith is a mountain in Northwestern Montana. Near the mountain is a small town Clark's Fork. The local weekly news is covered by the Guardian. A small fire started on the Meredith and as the fire department is preparing to put it out, the winds changed and it exploded burning the diseased ridiculed Liverpool pine. Stuart Campbell is sent by the paper to cover the fire. His dispatches are edited by his Aunt Alice. His reports and pictures captured the national news media. The writing brings along with Stuart coverage of the fire as it burns total destruction to the mountain. Shortly after the fire is finally a charred body is found in the ruins bringing a whole new set of problems to the local sheriff. At the same, a group of local teenagers is experimenting with various drugs. These two themes are simply brought together for one tale. I HIGHLY recommend this book.

Disclosure: Many thanks to Severn House for a review copy. The opinions expressed are my own...
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3 and 1 / 2 stars

I read the Kindle edition.

The Meredith Mountain fire in Montana was a horrendous experience for both the firefighters and the local towns around the area. But, for reporter and photographer Stuart Campbell it was a boon to his career. Just in his early twenties, he had the opportunity to go up to the mountain to interview firefighters, take awesome pictures and help out where he could. His photographs and stories were lauded throughout the state and the nation. 

When the mop up phase was taking place, a body was discovered. It was a man, thus far unidentified. There are no missing person reports. Sheriff Tasker and the police are stumped. 

At the same time, we have a group of teenagers who are experimenting with drugs. They start with oxycodone and valium. Looking for a bigger high, they hook up with heroin dealers. After the initial five dollar hits, the price, of course, goes up. The boys are very taken with their new pastime, and start to devise ways by which to fund their new habits. 

The autopsy on the dead man is finally completed. It shows that he was dead prior to being left in the forest fire. He died of an overdose of mostly fentanyl, including other drugs. When he is finally identified – with two identities – the people on the paper and in town don’t know him. But Judy recognizes him. He’s called Dooley Davis who is supposedly the editor of a non-existent shopper newspaper. 

The story picks up speed as it comes to a conclusion. We learn the name of the killer, and it comes as a surprise. Although, the reason for the murder does not. 

Mort who is the head of things at the paper is a pain in the backside. He is cheap and runs the paper as if he writes it all on his own. He is not very subtle, savvy or smart. He seems to think that no one has a life outside of his little paper. He is a very unlikeable person, with only flashes of humanity. Stuart and Alice, nephew and aunt, are a great team. They get along well and work together very well. 

This book is pretty well written and plotted. I enjoyed it. The tension in the story began immediately with the outset of the Meredith fire. It was an exciting bit of descriptive prose. The tension then lagged on and off a little, but picked up at the end. I liked the characters of Stuart and Alice, and Sheriff Tasker. Hopefully, Tasker and Alice will get together sometime soon. I didn’t like Mort. He’s an idiot. I am left with a question though. What ever happened to “Undie” and his habit? Nicely done, Ms. Gunn. 

I want to thank NetGalley and Severn House for forwarding to me a copy of this book to read and enjoy.
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