Review: House on Fire by Bonnie Kistler

Title: House on Fire by Bonnie Kistler
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 416 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


In the bestselling tradition of Jodi Picoult and Celeste Ng, a tightly wound and suspenseful novel about a blended family in crisis after a drunk driving accident leaves the daughter of one parent dead—and the son of the other parent charged with manslaughter. 

Divorce lawyer Leigh Huyett knows all too well that most second marriages are doomed to fail. But five years in, she and Pete Conley have a perfectly blended family of her children and his. To celebrate their anniversary, they grab some precious moments of alone time and leave Pete’s son Kip, a high school senior, in charge of Leigh’s fourteen-year-old daughter Chrissy at their home.

Driving back on a rainy Friday night, their cell phones start ringing. After a raucous party celebrating his college acceptance to Duke and his upcoming birthday, Kip was arrested for drunk driving after his truck crashed into a tree. And he wasn’t alone—Chrissy was with him.

Twelve hours later, Chrissy is dead and Kip is charged with manslaughter.

Kip has always been a notorious troublemaker, but he’s also a star student with a dazzling future ahead of him. At first, Leigh does her best to rally behind Pete and help Kip through his ordeal. Until he changes his story, and claims that he wasn’t driving after all—Chrissy was, and he swears there is a witness.

Leigh is stunned that he would lie about such a thing, while Pete clutches onto the story as the last, best hope to save his son, throwing his energy and money into finding this elusive witness. As they hurtle toward Kip’s trial date, husband and wife are torn between loyalty to their children and to each other, while the mystery of what really happened that night intensifies.

This richly conceived and tightly plotted exploration of family and tragedy will have you racing toward its shocking and thought-provoking conclusion


House on Fire is a fascinating domestic suspense debut by Bonnie Kistler.

Divorce lawyer Leigh Huyett and second husband Pete Conley are on their way home from their anniversary getaway when they find out their two youngest children have been involved in a minor accident. Pete’s son, eighteen year old Kip and Leigh’s fourteen year old daughter Chrissy crashed their vehicle after swerving to avoid hitting a dog. Kip is arrested for DUI and Leigh hires her best friend Shelby Randolph to defend him. What begins as a case that will most likely result in a suspended sentence turns serious when Chrissy dies from a brain aneurysm the next day. Kip is arrested for manslaughter but he blindsides Leigh and Pete when he changes his story about who was driving. Leigh is incensed that he would blame Chrissy for the accident while Pete immediately begins helping Kip locate the person whom his son claims can confirm his story. The once happy and well-blended family are torn apart as Kip’s trial approaches. Will Kip and his defense team locate the mystery person who can back up his story? Can Leigh find a way to forgive Kip for what she considers a lie in order to save himself? Is Pete and Leigh’s marriage destined to end in divorce? Or can they find a way to overcome the chasm between them?

Leigh never imagined her happy family and marriage could ever be torn apart.  She and Pete have successfully managed to blend their five children into a cohesive unit in which everyone likes and respects one another. Her oldest sons are twins who are away at college and Pete has visitation with his youngest daughter leaving Kip and Chrissy living with the two of them full time. Chrissy is a happy young woman who is a bright light to the rest of the family. Kip is charming but he has managed to get himself into trouble before. With a history of lying to protect himself, Leigh is quick to assume he is being untruthful about a potential witness at the scene of the accident. Her relationship with Pete deteriorates quickly as she is overwhelmed with grief over Chrissy’s death. She never imagined their marriage would fall apart so quickly, but she cannot see a way to overcome the divide between them.

Pete might occasionally harbor a few doubts about Kip’s story, but for the most part, he believes his son. He is absolutely stunned by Leigh’s reaction when he supports Kip, but he continues trying to keep the lines of communication open between him and his wife.  However, as the weeks and months pass, he begins to realize they might not able to save their marriage. Pete has no intention of abandoning his son, but as the trial looms closer, he starts to panic.  If Kip is found guilty, he is looking at spending time in prison but is there anything Pete can do to save his son?

As Leigh gradually returns to work, she finds herself embroiled in a few interesting cases. She is helping her neighbor’s daughter navigate a complex divorce from her wealthy husband but the young woman is resistant to her advice. A diplomat’s wife would like to divorce her husband, but the situation is extremely complicated.  Her client’s circumstances are soon becoming dire, but will Leigh find a way to help her? A highly decorated veteran is seeking assistance in gaining custody of his young son and Leigh is soon in awe at his ability to procure vital information to help move his case along. In a shocking twist, these cases collide in an unexpected manner that is dangerous yet provides Leigh with stunning clarity about her family’s situation. But is Leigh’s sudden epiphany too late to save Kip, her family and her marriage?

House on Fire is a character driven mystery that explores grief and the dynamics of blended families.  Leigh is a sympathetic character who finds herself in the untenable situation of supporting her stepson at the expense of her daughter’s memory.  She finds help from an unexpected source but will she take his well meaning advice to heart? Pete is a dedicated father and husband whose loyalty to Kip will resonate with readers.  Bonnie Kistler brings this compelling mystery to an action-packed yet unanticipated conclusion. I highly recommend this well-written, engrossing novel to fans of the genre.

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