Deputy Coroner Clay Edison returns for a case which puts his loyalties and limits of endurance to the test in The Burning, the latest collaboration from father and son writing team, Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman.
When a wealthy man is found murdered in his hilltop home, Deputy Coroner Clay Edison is shocked to discover a link to his own brother Luke on the scene. Luke is fresh out of prison and struggling to stay on the straight and narrow. But surely he’s not a killer?
When Luke goes missing, the case becomes even more fraught for Clay. He knows that the conflict between family and the truth could take him down the wrong path. Is his brother capable of murder? Or could he be a victim too?
This is the fourth Clay Edison book from the Kellermans and picks up roughly two years on from Lost Souls. (I’d recommend reading that one first. You could read The Burning as a standalone but it won’t have the same impact.)
In Lost Souls we saw Clay try and juggle his job as Alameda County Deputy Coroner with being a new dad. In this book, nearby wildfires and power outages are turning Oakland into such an oppressively smoky and apocalyptic cityscape that he’s just packed his pregnant wife and young daughter off to Los Angeles. Despite them now being safe, another family member’s potential involvement in his latest case raises cause for concern and throws a spanner in the works.
When a wealthy collector is murdered in his hilltop home, the case feels routine enough to begin with, and I enjoyed following the various steps and procedures which the coroner’s department goes through after Clay and his colleague, Harkness, are called to attend. But then Clay discovers a link to his brother at the crime scene – a brother with a criminal record and one who’s not answering his phone – and things take on an altogether murkier and more hazy appearance than even that caused by the surrounding wildfires.
The potential for a conflict of interest between Clay’s work as Deputy Coroner and his family loyalties in The Burning significantly ups the stakes for him in this book, not only threatening to jeopardise his reputation and career but also the entire murder investigation. This ethical dilemma is what makes for such an interesting read. Having previously admired Clay’s work ethic in Lost Souls and how doggedly he followed up every lead, no matter how unpromising, even working a second case off the books while also balancing family life and childcare, in The Burning we’ll see how far he’ll push those boundaries when his resilience and faith in his own brother are put to the test. And, in doing so, we’ll question what we would do in a similar situation.
What held my interest here was watching a man I’d admired and grown to like in Lost Souls begin to, shall we say, fudge the protocols he needs to follow in his line of work, amid mounting concern for his missing brother’s welfare and the extent of his involvement in the case. The Burning not only tests Clay but also how comfortable the reader is with Clay’s actions and judgement. It doesn’t help that Clay is practically running on fumes (of coffee and beef jerky) throughout and that his judgement might be impaired. Or that the billowing smoke, grit and heat from the wildfires create such an oppressive atmosphere to work in.
I spent so much of this book wondering what was going to come back and bite Clay and how, and fretted my way through The Burning at speed. Every time he struck out on his own and with each more questionable decision he made, I was waiting for him to get burned, as the title promised. The Burning plays out under a claustrophobic cloud of smoke and suspicion and the case provides an engaging ethical dilemma which I enjoyed reading about.
The Burning by Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman is published by Century, an imprint of Penguin Books UK. It is available as an audiobook, ebook and in hardback, with the paperback due out in May 2022. You can find it at Amazon UK (affiliate link), Bookshop.org (affiliate link), Hive and Waterstones.
My thanks to Isabelle Ralphs at the publisher for sending me a review copy.