I’d never heard of this book or the author before buying this on a Kindle Daily Deal a few years ago. I’m always willing to take a shot on a new writer, especially if the blurb makes it sound interesting enough. Good Reads readers gave this a good score so I took the chance. Was it a wise purchase to take a chance on a new writer?
The premise: A toxic pesticide spill in rural Iowa is a disaster that has the whole country watching. But it is no ordinary pesticide – it is an experimental substance produced by a company called Feno Chemicals. The pesticide is so potent and so potentially deadly to all life that it requires an exclusion zone to contain the affected area. Only, it’s so potentially toxic that the people exposed to it must remain within the exclusion zone. They are contaminated, it is in their system and only a long series of treatments can help and that requires quarantine. Feno Chemicals must clean up and attempt to find a cure.
They do develop drugs and treatments that make the people within the fence smell sickly sweet but floral and this earns the place the name “Flowertown”. For seven long years the inhabitants are stuck there, including our protagonist Ellie. Ellie is a bit of a ne’er-do-well. She smokes too much pot, fraternises sexually with one of the guards – something explicitly against the rules in case of potential contamination, and she is lazy and foul mouthed. In every way imaginable, she is the opposite of what we expect from a protagonist.
But something is afoot. The red box files in the room she must not enter are calling to Ellie. Her propensity for getting into trouble will eventually unravel darker forces on the move; this sparks a chain reaction of an edge of the seat thriller that left me slack-jawed in the final chapters.
Firstly, a thriller needs good pacing. Flowertown certainly has that, but it also has a slow-burning wick for much of the time. Unusual perhaps for this type of fiction but no less appreciated for it. The writer carefully takes the time to build the environment, the atmosphere and the characters – not just Ellie but also her roommate Rachel, her FWB Guy and her best friend Bing. This keeps the reader emotionally engaged from the slow opening through to the explosive climax. The pacing is right all of the time – the author knows when to turn it up a notch and when to slow it down.
The other element about this book that I really adored is the relevance. In this world of post-truth, media manipulation and fake news, it is perhaps more relevant in 2017 than it was in 2012 when published. This understanding of what has transpired in the last few months adds weight, realism, depth and relevance to the book. Had I read this just six months ago, I’m certain I would have felt a lot less reflective about it.
Ellie is a frustrating character; she’s a negative person and one who would in life prove to be quite unlikeable. But as many of these books usually prove, sometimes you need an unlikeable protagonist as it is part of their character development. She is a lot of negative things, but she is ballsy and we do get to understand why she is the way she is.
Is there anything I didn’t like? I’m struggling to think of anything and any complaints I did have dried up in the final few chapters as loose ends were tied. A satisfying thriller with a satisfying conclusion. 5/5