Title: Burning Rage
Author: Don Banting
Genre: Psychological thriller / Crime
Burning Rage by Don Banting tells the story of Jess, a woman who was bullied by her peers, abandoned by her father, and had an emotionally distant mother while growing up. Believing she could never amount to someone smart, beautiful, or successful, Jess is a bitter, middle-aged woman who takes out her hatred on others by committing acts of arson. Her severe disillusionment and loneliness eventually lead to her kidnapping Brandy, a college student to whom she is drawn.
Burning Rage is told from several points of view in third person, including a reporter and a detective, plus Brandy. Interspersed with the current-day storyline are flashbacks of Jess’s childhood, which explain why she has become the lonesome, jaded person she is today. In addition to the two timelines and different third-person points of view, parts of chapters are told from Jess’s first-person point of view. At first, all the shifting points of view and different timelines are confusing, but the reader quickly figures out what is going on. Banting’s choice to use many points of view brings an interesting twist to the narrative, and we get to see perspectives we wouldn’t if we only had Jess’s point of view. This enriches the story, especially experiencing events through Brandy’s eyes. We see not only the abductor, Jess, but the abductee, Brandy, and what is going through their minds as they interact.
Focusing on Jess, the author’s use of first person for her part of the narrative strengthens her character. The reader is drawn into Jess’s mind, given direct access to her thoughts and her reasoning for the horrific acts she commits. The protagonist is actually the villain in this story, and that is a compelling spin. A protagonist does not necessarily need to be likeable, and that is the case with Jess. She is highly flawed and damaged, does terrible things, thinks horrific thoughts about her family and coworkers, and has a twisted idea of what love is.
She kidnaps Brandy because she wants her own version of a family, and she further pretends Brandy is a man, calling her Brandon. This furthers Jess’s delusions, and despite the kidnapping, she finds herself softening around Brandy, even fighting against her hard, jagged side that only wants to hurt others. The fact that Jess is severely deprived of true love is cause for pity. She is a deep character, and the reader both loves and hates her. Banting created a complex protagonist and villain all in one, and although we don’t want her to win, we can still feel sorry for her.
Despite Jess’s character being complex, some readers may find it challenging to feel her actions are believable. The flashbacks provide reasons for her behavior as an adult, but nothing she experiences as a child is so horrific that she could be so deranged. Plenty of people have lonely childhoods or are ridiculed at school, but they do not grow up to burn down buildings and kidnap innocent, young women. Jess’s character feels like it is lacking enough background to justify her actions.
There are some punctuation issues peppered throughout, but they do not detract from the story.
Burning Rage presents a complex, compelling protagonist who is also the story’s villain. Don Banting’s psychological thriller does not disappoint when it comes to a study of a deranged person’s mind. Readers who enjoy a solid, crime-solving story that is combined with the point of view of the villain will find a tightly-woven story that keeps the pages turning.
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