Cards on the table from the outset: this is a great novel that grabs the reader’s attention and holds it throughout the short amount of time it takes to read.
The characterisation is rich from the outset, and Andrew Cullum carefully avoids clogging up the pace with unnecessary physical description, whilst providing just enough clues to form each character’s image and let the reader fill the gaps. The same goes for the descriptions of the spaces and world of the story, from the small local theatre, to the upstairs loft room that the protagonist calls home for her first real theatre job out of drama school.
Carefully sketched-out images form nicely into detailed pictures as Cullum calls upon classic images and motifs that allow the reader the freedom to colour their own way through the story.
Clearly a man of the theatre himself, Cullum relates the story about a small theatre company with great warmth and nostalgia. However, this isn’t a novel that requires the reader to be an expert of theatre – or even know anything about the inner workings of that creative world – in order to fully engage in. If fact, Cullum provides the reader with the narrator’s theatre-less boyfriend, rounded just enough to help the story move along with a relationship that is completely believable. He is often a voice of reason and connection with the real world that she needs, making his character more than just a narrative device.
And it is the crafting of the story that really captures the imagination. Told in a wonderful style of multiple first person, even though there is a clear protagonist point of view – a “narrator” so to speak – the other characters and their differences are exciting, intriguing, funny and infectiously warm. When needs be, there are the dastardly, sinister eyes that add edge and poise to the thriller elements in the novel. The twists, the turns, revelations and signposting keep the reader throughout.
The book is paced just right – not too slow, not too fast. Any slower and it would drag; any faster and the complex array of little references, rich imagery, and themes would be lost. They all come to an ending with a sudden jolt of speed and a gasping of “oh, I see now…” realisation in the denouement that fitted together like a grand speech from Poirot. (Okay, maybe not as grandiose as Poirot, and certainly not as verbose, but definitely matching in richness).
It is a relatively short novel, but that’s not a criticism as the length is exactly right to fulfil the tale. There are echoes of telling a legend and getting the length just right. As such, there is little else that can be described without slipping into spoilers and robbing the reader from the enjoyable journey the book provides. Lights Burning Blue has all the page-turning energy and cliff-hanging tension it needs to be a great thriller. As drama set in the theatre world it has just the right amount of practical detail to make it utterly believable. As a novel it reads like a beautifully directed play that whisks its audience away.
Lights Burning Blue is a pleasure to read as Cullum shares his warmth and love of theatre, mixed with the cunning of eye for mystery and thriller to usher the reader through an exciting story.
The only question left to ask the author – when is the next novel to be released…?