Joanne Leedom-Ackerman’s Burning Distance is a new volume from an experienced and multi-talented hand. Sold as a thriller, and dealing with events surrounding, before and shortly after the original Gulf War there is little in the way of avoiding calling this volume historical.
The lead of this book is one Elizabeth West, often called Lizzy. She’s a great enough young woman first met when she’s around 10 and her father dies under add circumstances involving his work period before long she is in high school comma flirting with a young man named Adile and believing she’s in love. They’re together for a while only to have his family’s business, particularly his father’s seeming connection to the arms trade, pull him away from her. Over the next couple of years they see each other more than once, and Lizzie quickly learns that the young man she knew may not be quite who she thought. This is, however, somewhat counterbalanced by the fact her father was also very much not who she believed.
The arms industry, manufacturing, dealing, smuggling, and assorted middlemen, play a key role in the story. Questions of the morality of different levels of dealing weapons, the difference between doing so illegally and legally, the question of using secondaries to get around being known for such actions, or just the tip of the iceberg in the story. The question of the law, its use as a cudgel to hurt as well as a tool to keep society functional, is inexorably tied to this.
Guessing character connections in both the past and present of the story is difficult, and a number of twists in the first half helped to make this an engaging pursuit. Family connections, the discovery that one might not know what they thought they did about loved ones, is a major element of the book as well, and combines with the above for some very nice drama.
An unplanned pregnancy exists as part of the plot, and while it’s a good way to add some drama for a woman in her late teens or early twenties, even if cliche, it is also hilariously obviously telegraphed. The initial sexual sequence has her repeatedly concerned about that, and while the possibility might have been in place it was merely attempting to depict a panicky teenager about her first sexual encounter the story goes with the more cliche and obvious bit of plotting. The fact the lead is somewhat secular in her day to day behavior and life, yet the idea of abortion never enters the narrative even to be rejected, is an extremely odd little bit of storytelling. While the 1990s were unless open time in many ways, it was significantly safer and less judged to procure one then and as a result it seems at best a storytelling hole and at worst subtle propagandizing by the author to not even mention the concept. Given the resume of the author it seems the more likely answer is simply sloppy storytelling in this small element.
Probably the greatest problem this particular book is likely to face is that it is labeled unambiguously as a thriller. While it certainly contains elements of the thriller and isn’t divorced from that genre, the often slow pacing, historical setting, status of the lead as sometimes the least dynamic figure, and preference for a focus on family drama makes it a strange book to categorize.
Overall burning distance is a good read, but one that very much does not fit into the traditional genre lines it has been sold to audiences using. There is more focus on family drama than anything else, and while this drama includes arms dealers and espionage it never rises to feel like a proper thriller. Still for those curious about a careful slow burn work set at this time, it’s well worth a read.