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Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite
Only the Women are Burning by Nancy Burke is a mystery novel around the events of three separate cases of females dying by flame on the same morning. Cassandra lives in New Jersey and, sadly, is no stranger to fire. She had witnessed the fiery immolation of her former aaya, Banhi, at the suspected hand of her mother-in-law right before her very eyes while visiting India. Now at her home in the quiet town of Hillston, Cassandra is confronted once again with a woman burning within arm's reach, scorched despite Cassandra's best efforts to save her. The deceased's clothes, however, remain unburned. When two more deaths by fire make the news, Cassandra is horrified to discover one of the victims is an old friend and she is unwilling to let the matter rest until she finds the truth.
Nancy Burke delivers a novel that is intriguing and a plot that is wholly unique in Only the Women are burning. The first thing that struck me was the dialogue, which is crafted in such a natural manner that it feels authentic and makes the characters relatable. I love Cassandra and the way she moves through life in a juggling act of processing these deaths while she cooks dinner and tells her kids to do their homework. She is every woman and I connected with her almost immediately. Those who surround her are also fully fleshed-out characters, a cast that makes an already fantastic plot so much more engrossing. Theories are tested on what may have triggered the deaths as the possibility of a cult, eleven-year sun cycles, spontaneous combustion, and other inconceivable ideas that just fuel more questions. I enjoyed the process of Cassandra piecing everything together and think readers will feel the same as well.