I just finished reading The Flame Ignites, by Donna Fletcher Crow. I enjoyed this novel a lot, and it’s a departure from the typical novel, in that it combines some fact with fiction in an unusual way. It’s a literary mystery with romance, part of a series of novels, and this is a prequel to the rest of the series. I recommend it for anyone interested in the subject of contemporary romantic literature, who loves a good mystery, or who is interested in the US state of Vermont.
Take me to Vermont!
What I love most about it is that it takes the reader on a journey to Vermont in the autumn, and the scenery described makes me want to visit there for real. One of the places visited is a house called Naulakha, where Rudyard Kipling actually lived for a time, and where he wrote The Jungle Book. I never knew that he had lived in the US for part of his life. Autumn is my favorite season, and I’ve always wanted to see Vermont. I love romantic literature, though I had never heard of the author Elswyth Thane, and of course I love a good mystery.
The story is set in 1984. The protagonist, Elizabeth Allerton, is a young woman working on her doctoral thesis. She’s researching the life of deceased author Elswyth Thane, with whom Elizabeth personally corresponded for years before the author’s death.
While doing her research, Elizabeth stays with her cousin Susan, an attorney who lives in Vermont, in a town near where the deceased author lived the later years of her life. But within a day of arriving, Elizabeth is accused of leaving the scene of a minor accident in the parking lot of the local market. She had driven her cousin’s nephew and his two dogs there, and she doesn’t recall nudging the car that was parked next to her, though she was tired and distracted at the time, and driving her cousin’s car. Someone apparently witnessed the accident and says it was her, or rather her cousin’s car. There’s red paint smudged on the car she was driving, and she recalls that the car parked beside her was red. Luckily her cousin Susan is an attorney and helps her with the court case. But it puts a damper on her visit right from the start and leaves her frazzled.
In church her first Sunday there, Elizabeth hears a man introduced as Richard Cabot Bracken Spenser, whose middle names are recognizable to her at once because they were the names of major characters in Elswyth Thane’s novels. Elizabeth speculates that he or his mother knew the author, so she hopes for a chance to pick his brain as part of her research. Then she learns that he’s the one who witnessed the accident in which she’s accused. He’s well-known in the area, a widower who runs a family-owned publishing company.
They meet days later, and there’s an immediate attraction, though he seems cold one moment, angry the next, and interested in her the next, and she’s left unsure what to think of him. She learns that Elswyth Thane was his godmother.
Well, I won’t give any more away. It’s a fascinating story, with its mixture of literary history and fiction, and the mystery is intriguing, and provides some suspense, although the romance isn’t resolved within this story, and I felt there were a few loose ends left in the mystery as well. Just a few, though. There is a solution, and it’s a humdinger. I enjoyed this book a great deal, enough to want to read the next in the series.
The most fascinating element to this story is that not only was Elswyth Thane a real author, but the author of this book, Donna Fletcher Crow, actually corresponded with her, just as the protagonist of her novel did, and she used real letters of theirs in the story. It’s an unusual way of combining fact and fiction, and I think it lends a particular edge of realism to the story.