Written by James Barnett
Content warning: Contains mentions of violence and sexual assault.
Jane makes a break for it, dragging her foot due to her irreparably damaged ankle. Down towards the main road she goes, a £5 note tucked into her hair. She sees a car slow down and turn into the driveway. Her heart sinks. Lenn, her captor, catches her before she can get away. Oh, and by the way, her name isn’t Jane. It’s Thanh Dao.
This is how Will Dean drops us into the world of his recent release, The Last Thing to Burn, where we immediately find ourselves cheering on this damaged woman in a nail-biting escape. Unfortunately, this is only the first of many situations that we must witness Thanh go through in this 243-page thriller.
This harrowing but gripping tale shines a light on the experience of human trafficking and the lengths of cruelty that comes with it. Thanh is an immigrant who has travelled illegally from Vietnam to England with her sister to start a new life. Thanh now finds herself being held hostage by this cruel man who keeps her in check with the threat of sending her sister back to Vietnam if she doesn’t comply with everything he says. Lenn, who is obsessed with his deceased mother and her way of doing things, forces Thanh to prepare his meals exactly how his mother did and threatens to burn one of very few possessions that she has remaining if anything is even slightly wrong. He keeps a close eye on her with cameras that are situated all around the house and does not allow her to close any doors. He also locks away the T.V. and phone. Thanh has nothing to live for until the situation changes and she finds herself with multiple reasons to not only survive, but escape.
This heartbreaking read is written in first person, which forces the reader to witness and feel every bit of pain, sorrow, and tragedy that Thanh goes through, while also celebrating her triumphs. At times this book evoked a very physical response from me and often a pit of dread would develop in my gut and my heart rate would increase. I also often found myself squinting my eyes while reading some of the more violent scenes. This novel is not for the faint of heart and I give you warning here—it contains situations of torture, sexual assault, and content of a graphic nature.
Certainly not an easy read but is definitely a necessary one. Even though this is fiction, it unquestionably opens the reader’s eyes to the depth of cruelty of the current worldwide issue of human trafficking, which is far more prevalent than what we think. This novel provides a roller-coaster of emotions and a nail-biting experience that will keep you turning the pages until you have completed it.
The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean was released on 12 January 2021 by Hachette Australia. The trade paperback is $29.99 and the eBook is $15.99.
You can purchase the book here
James is a writer/editor/podcast producer/transport manager from Melbourne currently completing a Bachelor of Creative Writing at Deakin University. For more from James, head on over to any of the below links.
James’s work has appeared in the Euphoria edition of WORDLY Magazine.