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Ash Mountain Reader Reviews

Ash Mountain

Rachel Hall

A darkly acerbic portrayal of small-town life and secrets and a searing portrayal of a natural disaster than changes everything...

A darkly acerbic portrayal of small-town life and secrets and a searing portrayal of a natural disaster than changes everything...

At just over two hundred pages, Ash Mountain ended up becoming one of the most compelling and brutally brilliant thrillers I can remember. In parts, devastating and in others shot through with laugh out loud dark humour, the story provides the ultimate test for the gutsy female protagonist, Fran.

Snarky forty-something, Fran Collins, arrives back in the small town she grew up in to care for her ailing father with mixed feelings; she loves her dad, her teen pregnancy mistake and son, Dante, lives there and sixteen-year-old daughter, Vonny, will be coming to visit at the weekends, but the town is depressingly unchanged and her childhood traumas are hurtling back. As Fran gets obsessive - and inventive - with her ideas on caring for her dad she is unsurprised to find that many of the old faces never even left the town, old crimes continue and the memories fester. Whilst her old frenemy is keen to renew rivalries and her eyes are turned by the former geek next door, the news that Dante’s biological father will be in town and Vonny has her own romantic interest complicates outspoken Fran’s dysfunctional life even more. Just as Ash Mountain finally starts to feel like it might become a place to call home for Fran, the blistering weather forecast threatens to damage everything and jeopardise the people that mean the most of all.

As the narrative counts down the days ahead of the catastrophic fire and occasionally charts back to thirty years previously when Fran was a fifteen-year-old, it is intercut by first-person snapshots from the supporting cast. Knowing that something catastrophic is imminent adds urgency to the narrative and simultaneously intensifies the sense of claustrophobia. Between smirking and sniggering at some cracking turns of phrase in Helen Fitzgerald’s prose to suddenly being thrown into the life-changing disaster of a bushfire, I veered through an extreme range of emotions and felt every agonising moment of the town’s horror.

The final fifty pages of the novel are the closest I can remember to genuine heart in mouth tension and I guarantee that this is one ending that readers won’t see coming. On turning the final page the thought that the disaster is only the beginning lingers and gives the novel an incredible poignancy.


S. Harper

Helen Fitzgerald’s distinctive writing style, shockingly dark humour and feisty characters are back and I absolutely love it!

Smart, strong and sassy, Fran is a survivor who tells it like it is and is unmistakably one of Helen Fitzgerald’s creations. Raised by her single father in the small outback town of Ash Mountain, Fran is confident in her own abilities, after all, she raised a pretty well-balanced son and daughter herself. But Fran is uncertain about her new role. Caring for her father who has suffered a stroke is not going to be easy but Fran rises to the challenge and gets stuck into solving problems as they arise. He’s cantankerous and won’t leave the house so she invents ‘Gramps on a stick’ and brings the world to his bedside. He likes to smoke but can no longer hold a cigarette and won’t let anyone dictate his drags for him so ‘Gramps smokes a cigarette’ is created. But it’s the problems arising from Fran’s past and her reintegration into Ash Mountain life that is going to be the hardest to solve. Set against a backdrop of the sweltering Australian Summer, sinister crimes gradually come to light and events build to a shocking climax that will truly take your breath away.

Helen Fitzgerald’s distinctive writing style, shockingly dark humour and feisty characters are back. I love her strong and yet vulnerable female characters and her honest portrayal of life and how we cope with all it throws at us. It’s not always easy to rise to a challenge and meet it head-on. Sometimes it’s too much to overcome and we fail but that’s not the end. We need to pick ourselves up and make the best of it and that’s just what Fran has done for her whole life. The question is, can she do it again now that she’s back where she began and Ash Mountain is throwing all it can at her?

Caroline Highy

A powerful, no-holds-barred piece of writing covering many complex family issues head-on.

My first experience at reading work by Helen Fitzgerald. The novel was dark, gritty and her method of writing very descriptive and detailed. I personally found the book a little difficult to get into initially but the writer’s style then grew on me.

We meet Fran, the lead character, who has returned to Ash Mountain, initially under sufferance, as she cares for her elderly father. By coming back home Fran finds feelings she thought she had buried deep rise to the surface once more. The story develops as she revisits family, friends and faces she thought she had forgotten in her small-town community.

Throughout we see Fran confronting demons from her youth as well as her rocky relationship with the church, education and the matured father of her child. The cast of characters is strong and each adds a different dimension to the story. Importantly they are grounded and credible in their composition. The story’s chapter’s fluctuated between present day and the days leading up to the fateful fire.

In between the dark, gritty text, there were comedic & perceptive comments albeit for those who have a dry sense of humour. The timing of these meant for a brief moment the dark nature of the book lifted.

I was pleased to have persevered and if you are looking for an emotive, remarkable read this is for you!

Miriam Smith

The ending was severe, hard-hitting and had me holding my breath, truly, truly well written and a denouement to a story like no other I’ve ever read.

Ash Mountain stirred so many emotions during reading this, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry by the end - well I definitely felt like crying at the ending - but with dry, dark humour, dysfunctional relationships, tension and sadness, this story is so well written, it’s a one that will stay with me a very long time.

Having read the author Helen Fitzgerald’s most recent novel Worst Case Scenario, I knew I was in for a treat, I love how she tackles serious subjects in a way that doesn’t bog you down with depressing heaviness but keeps the characters realistic and lighthearted. I was pleased by the amount of the often dark and witty humour, as otherwise, this would have been too harrowing to read but because this author knows how to incorporate light heartedness in the face of adversity, I felt the story was more realistic and just as dramatic.

The author actually lives in bushfire territory and based the story on heroic and traumatic real-life scenarios, using information gained from a man who tweeted live, the hauntingly and horrific details, as a real-life firestorm hit his area, recording his behaviour step by step. The cover photograph is an actual photo too (just to add to the authenticity to the story!) taken spur of the moment by a father of one of his kids, as she watched the fiery, orange sky, standing in the open doorway of their house. Hard to comprehend isn’t it?

The ending was severe, hard-hitting and had me holding my breath, truly, truly well written and a denouement to a story like no other I’ve ever read.

An honest portrayal of life during the days of an upcoming firestorm, mixed with a domestic noir that slips back seamlessly thirty years and which together forms a terrific thriller you won’t be able to put down.

Book Information

ISBN: 9781913193287
Publication date: 20th August 2020
Author: Helen FitzGerald
Publisher: Orenda Books
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 276 pages
Genres: Action Adventure / Spy, Reader Reviewed Books, Family Drama, Liz Robinson's Picks of the Month, Modern and Contemporary Fiction, Shorter Reads, Star Books, Thriller / Suspense,
Categories: Thriller / suspense, Adventure, Crime & mystery,