The Burnings by Julian Lees

She knew she mustn’t give up hope. The sun would be up soon. She began screaming for help again. She screamed and screamed and screamed.

The Burnings book cover

A hot, busy day in Jakarta and Inspector Ruud Pujasumarta and his team are called to the site of a burned body in an abandoned vehicle. What Ruud at first hopes will turn out to be a one-off murder soon takes on an even more sinister meaning as the charred remains of two more women are found.

Ruud soon finds that the link between these women is their faith – this killer is targeting Christians, leaving banners with a passage from the Quran calling for unbelievers to be burned. With pressure mounting from all sides, Ruud must find the killer before more lives are lost.

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Julian Lees manages to pack a whole lot into this novel, and the unfamiliar (to me!) setting was a breath of fresh air. Not only is there an eventful and thrilling mystery, the insight into the working lives of Indonesian police officers was both fascinating and, at times, heart-breaking.

Not only does Ruud Pujasumarta face all the usual trials and tribulations thrown up by a murder investigation, he must also swim against the tide of corruption that permeates the authorities in Jakarta, and I found myself rooting for him completely; a steadfast and principled man who wants to do his job and keep people safe.

I will say that I was glad that I read the first in this series (The Bone Ritual) before I started The Burnings, as this gave me some valuable insight into the background of and relationships between many of the key characters. I don’t think it would be impossible to read this second novel as a standalone, but as the first is a similarly enjoyable crime thriller, it would seem sensible to start there!

Though perhaps not for the faint-hearted, as the violence in the novel hits you right from the start, and doesn’t let up, I would happily recommend The Burnings to my fellow crime fiction fans.

Ruud thought about the cases he’d solved, the families he’d helped, and all of a sudden it got to him. He squinted at the memories. The anger overwhelmed him and his face screwed up. He broke down and started to cry.

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