BURNTOWN by Jennifer McMahon


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McMahon (The Winter People, 2014, etc.) swoops readers off to a setting straight out of a modern, but much starker, Grimm’s fairy tale in this odd story with a touch of the supernatural.

In 1975, Miles Sandeski, hiding in the bushes during a game of Robin Hood, saw a man wearing a chicken mask cut his mother’s throat as she lounged in the backyard. Years later, Miles has grown up bereft of family, since his father, accused of the murder, has hung himself. Now Miles has a family of his own: Lily, who was his childhood sweetheart, and their daughter, Eva. Soon their family extends to Errol, an unexplained addition they treat as a son. Miles has a secret his father entrusted to him in the form of some plans, stolen from Thomas Edison, for a machine that, once built, will allow communication with the dead. Miles keeps the plans hidden, but he builds the machine, and soon tragedy strikes and a flood washes away their home, leaving Miles and Errol dead and Lily and Eva (now known as Necco) living as vagrants. They make their way to a homeless camp where Lily joins a mystical group of women. But she, too, dies, and soon Necco is living in an abandoned car with her boyfriend, Hermes. Then everything goes awry, and Necco is being pursued by an evil man her mother called “Snake Eyes” or “Chicken Man” while trying to stay one step ahead of him. McMahon brings in a cast of oddball characters—a girl fleeing a drug dealer, a fat woman, a ghost from her past—and combines them into one hodgepodge of a strange, fanciful tale. Less a mystery or thriller than a journey into a city where no one wants to go.

Weirdly entertaining but anticlimactic in the end.

Pub Date: April 25th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-385-54136-7
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2017


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