Firewatching by Russ Thomas

For the next meeting, we are reading Firewatching by Ross Thomas. Please leave your comment below this post or join our community.

A police procedural introducing Detective Sergeant Adam Tyler, a cold case reviewer who lands a high-profile murder investigation, only to find the main suspect is his recent one-night stand…

When financier Gerald Cartwright disappeared from his home six years ago, it was assumed he’d gone on the run from his creditors. But then a skeleton is found bricked up in the cellar of Cartwright’s burned-out mansion, and it becomes clear Gerald never left alive.

As the sole representative of South Yorkshire’s Cold Case Review Unit, Detective Sergeant Adam Tyler is not expected to get results, but he knows this is the case that might finally kick start his floundering career. Luckily, he already has a suspect. Unluckily, that suspect is Cartwright’s son, the man Tyler slept with the night before.

Keeping his possible conflict-of-interest under wraps, Tyler digs into the case alongside Amina Rabbani, an ambitious young Muslim constable and a fellow outsider seeking to prove herself on the force. Soon their investigation will come up against close-lipped townsfolk, an elderly woman with dementia who’s receiving mysterious threats referencing a past she can’t remember, and an escalating series of conflagrations set by a troubled soul intent on watching the world burn…

The comment

Russ Thomas’s crime fiction debut is a cracking read, set in Sheffield, featuring a gay detective, DS Adam Tyler, who after an ‘incident’ that left his face scarred, is the sole member of the South Yorkshire Cold Case Unit, still in the force thanks to his godmother, DCI Diane Jordan. He is a smart, self-contained guy, with a reputation for being cold and definitely not a team player.

His father was a well-known cop who committed suicide, Adam found his body, and he was thought to be corrupt.

His successes in solving cases have made him a lot of enemies, he has to endure sly pointed comments about his father, and homophobia in the form of ‘banter’ and otherwise. After a one-night stand with a young, good-looking man, Adam pushes his way onto a case where a man’s body has been discovered bricked in by a false wall in the cellar at the Old Vicarage in the village of Castledene.

The case

It looks to be the body of Gerald Cartwright, a notoriously corrupt businessman, with a dubious reputation who disappeared 6 years ago. The case is led by DI Jim Doggett, who beneath his bluster is keen to have Adam on the team, and lets him bring on board the ambitious Constable Rabbani, providing he accepts responsibility for her.

However, Adam finds himself in trouble almost immediately, the prime suspect is Gerald’s son, Oscar, the man Adam had slept with the night before. Despite being compromised, Adam stays on the case which turns out to be a messy, tangled affair with numerous threads. There are the elderly neighbours, the cancer ridden ex-headteacher, Edna Burnside, living with the dementia suffering Lily Bainbridge, they looked after Oscar when he was a child.

Lily is getting hand delivered notes from an anonymous sender stating that they know what she did, but the problem is that she cannot remember what that might be. In a tense narrative, another body is discovered and running amok in the background is a pyromaniac, the Fire Watcher, with a blog about historical fires, who knows precisely what happened all those years ago.

The characters

Thomas certainly makes his mark with his complex crime fiction debut, the central protagonist, Adam Tyler, is a strong, determined, tenacious, memorable, and flawed character, who fails to keep tabs on and manage Constable Rabbani, with his troubled background and personal life. The multiple threads eventually begin to connect, there is plenty of intrigue and it looks as if Adam might have been played, but by whom? There is plenty to get your teeth into in this dark, tense and suspenseful read, with its gripping central character, I just could not put the book down until I finished. I am not certain if this is a series, but I sincerely hope so.

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