Ted Dekker and Erin Healy have teamed up for yet another riveting novel, right on the heels of their early 2009 release, KISS. But the differences are significant, so much so that halfway through BURN you start to wonder if Dekker has opted to abandon his signature supernatural thriller genre in favor of straight suspense. But no. Rest assured, BURN comes with a twist so bizarre that it leaves no doubt that you're back on eerie Dekker terrain.
The story opens in an unusual setting: a Gypsy camp in a New Mexico desert. There, Janeal Mikkado, daughter of the Gypsy leader, is approached by a sinister but intriguing stranger named Salazar Sanso, who offers her a chance to save her father's life by recovering a large amount of money that belonged to Sanso but is now in the hands of her father, who is working with the DEA to destroy Sanso's drug-running enterprise. For her efforts, Janeal will be handsomely rewarded.
Already wanting to leave the Gypsy community, Janeal sees Sanso's offer as a much-coveted ticket to the wider world. But things don't turn out quite the way Janeal and Sanso had planned. Through a chaotic and tragic situation, Janeal escapes both the Gypsy community and Sanso's hold on her. With enough stolen money to create a whole new life for herself, Janeal does just that, taking on a new name and a new identity in the New York publishing industry.
But 15 years later, Janeal discovers that Sanso is safely in FBI custody and, somewhat illogically, returns to the desert southwest under the guise of pursuing a story about Sanso for the magazine she heads up. Her arrival sets off a cat-and-mouse game involving Sanso and her two best friends from the Gypsy camp, Robert and Katie, both of whom were believed to have died in the New Mexico tragedy so many years earlier. Katie holds incriminating evidence against Janeal, and once she discovers that Katie is still alive, Janeal is determined to prevent her from revealing what she knows.
This is the point where the words "psychological thriller" come into play, but even those words don't do justice to the major twist that turns this story into such a mind-bending journey that it could actually make your head hurt. In fact, for the first few chapters after the big reveal, you're likely to be so confused that you just want the throbbing in your brain to end. But there's that ever-present Dekker-Healy talent compelling you to keep on reading, and soon enough, things settle down and you're perfectly at ease with the suspension of disbelief you've had to apply. It's all okay, because Dekker and Healy have convinced you that it's okay, regardless of what the logical side of your brain is telling you. You may not know what to make of this story when it's all said and done, but you do know it was worth it to get to the said and done part.
As with KISS, in BURN Dekker and Healy explore the nature of reality and turn what seems to be real on its head. Yes, that gets confusing at times, because they're dealing with supernatural and psychological possibilities that linear thinkers who are grounded in a concrete reality have difficulty wrapping their heads around. And yes, some of that confusion may stem from flaws inherent in the book itself rather than in the mind of the reader.
But one thing is certain: the authors' collaboration works --- despite the flaws, despite the confusion, despite the suspension of disbelief. Diehard Dekker fans may find that the first part of the book moves too slowly for their liking, but if they're diehard fans, they'll keep reading anyway, confident that Dekker will not disappoint. And the Dekker-Healy fans who quickly embraced KISS are likely to be equally passionate about BURN, and with good reason. It's a very good book.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on January 12, 2011