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Rob Lubitz
The Night of the Burning Car
Rob Lubitz, author

Adult; Mystery/Thriller; (Market)

Driving late at night on a rural road in North Carolina, Billy Dalton sees a fiery car in the distance. He brakes, sprints to the burning vehicle, and rescues a beaten woman and a rope-bound little girl just as the gas tank explodes.

Later, awakening in the hospital and covered with burns, the sheriff tells Billy there was no woman, no child, and no other vehicle found at the scene—only the scorched wreckage of Billy’s own car. Gradually and reluctantly, Billy accepts the story that he crashed his car into a tree and hallucinated the woman and the baby in the trauma of the fire.

However, thirteen years later, a surprise visit by a private investigator helps him unravel the secret of what really happened on the night of the burning car.

A suspenseful story of deceit, desperation, love, revenge, and redemption.

Quarter Finalist

Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 9 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 9.25 out of 10


Plot/Idea: This is a riveting and tension-filled novel that will hold the reader's interest from beginning to end. The author does a fine job with the story's plot twists, making them surprising yet wholly believable.

Prose: The author is a strong writer, able to craft action sequences, dialogue, and description with equal skill, allowing the story to unfold at just the right pace for an engaging reading experience.

Originality: The Night of the Burning Car features a highly intriguing, credible premise that offers psychological depth and keeps readers guessing. 

Character/Execution: The author capably develops the primary characters, providing them with appealing dimensions and complexity. Billy Dalton's own uncertainty surrounding the events of the titular event is particularly well examined. 

Date Submitted: April 04, 2023

This page-turning historical thriller from Lubitz (Breaking Free) offers crime, court drama, and restitution in satisfying measure. One night in 1948, Billy Dalton saves Lacey Evers and her baby from a fiery car on a North Carolina roadside. The mother-daughter pair disappears, and Billy passes out. Once he’s conscious, the authorities inform him he imagined the scene. It’s clearly a cover-up, but he’s no match for the sadistic Sheriff Huck Harkins and his lecherous judge brother who lord over Kane County like mobsters. More than a decade later, Lacey finds Billy and recounts the scandalous incidents of that night. They unite against the Harkins in court, risking their lives and the safety of their loved ones.

With pulse-thumping action and strong characterization, Lubitz dramatizes racism and corruption in the South leading up to and during the Civil Rights era. Billy’s and Lacey’s points of view alternate every few chapters, revealing dysfunctional family histories before their life paths join. Although Lacey’s tale is sensational, Billy shines as an unhappily married alcoholic consumed by repressed anger who gropes for happiness. Disfigured by the burning car, Billy can’t help but engage in self-sabotage when faced with others’ kindness, until the crucible of the Korean War reframes his existence so that he finally welcomes a fulfilling life. His quiet awakening and Lacey’s decision to fight for justice are satisfying in themselves, as is the accompanying suspense. How will they avenge themselves against the unyielding political machine?

Billy and Lacey’s shift from victims to survivors and then agents of restitution entertains yet highlights American atrocities like lynching. The story is a study in how exposing crime dismantles a community until oppressed are empowered. Told in straightforward language and boasting a cast of well-drawn side characters, this crime-court drama will please fans of American historical fiction and law-and-order aficionados.

Takeaway: A page-turning thriller about crime, corruption, and justice in the midcentury South.

Great for fans of: John Grisham’s A Time to Kill, Susan Carol McCarthy’s Lay that Trumpet in Our Hands

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

Kirkus Reviews

"An immersive and affecting story of injustice and an exemplification of the unbreakable human spirit."

Kirkus Verdict: Get it.