Monday, November 18, 2013

malicious flames

PYRO By Earl Emerson ISBN: 0345462882, New York : Ballantine Books, c2004. Firefighters and law enforcement officers of any stripe or agency have always had, and always will have, a very special place in my heart. No doubt this stems from the fact that I have both in my family. My Grandfather was a volunteer firefighter for many, many years, and I vaguely remember, as a very little girl, being allowed, (under very *very* close supervision) to crawl over, and climb around on one of the firetrucks his company used. He understood that I “see” by touch, and he always made sure (occasionally by bullying) that I got the chance as often as possible. So, it isn’t surprising that I enjoy books about firefighting, and the people who do it. This book is no exception, especially since the story is actually several stories in one. First, it is the tale of an arsonist, the damage he did, and the methods by which that damage was controlled and conquered. One learns a lot about techniques and even more about the dangers these brave men and women face, sometimes on a daily basis. Some of this is fairly graphic and specific, and, if you have a good imagination as I do, by the time the smoke clears, you are *entirely* glad you are just reading about, and not experiencing what Is described. The book is, however, the story of a family which was destroyed by the actions of an arsonist, and by one man, who had to confront lifelong emotional and psychological issues, before they destroyed him. The 3rd story is about Fire Department politics and bureaucracy, at its very best, and at its very worst, and about the way a firehouse functions, in very human terms. The final story is really a character study of a long time arsonist, and we get to see how he functions, what he feels, how he thinks, and eventually, how he self destructs. All 3 stories are told simultaneously, and are so intertwined that they cannot be entirely sepearated, and the result is a very fast paced, exciting and, ultimately, emotionally satisfying book. The writing is extremely good, with vivid descriptions, and technical detail handled in such a way that it help the reader understand what is happening and why, without bogging the reader down with too much detail. I’m not sure how this is set up in print, but the book is narrated by several people, alternatively. There may be spacing in print that makes this easy to follow, but if you are listening to the book, as I did, it can initially be more than a little confusing; so here’s a hint that I found helpful, and may help other readers to acclimate more quickly. The first thing to remember is that the narrative of the main character is not identified. That is done only when another character is speaking, and until you realize that, it is easy to think there is only 1 person narrating, and since each narration may well involve perspective changes, and contain information that other characters can’t possibly know, it can be disorienting. The clue is that each narration is like a chapter, with a title for the narration, and if not the main character’s is preceeded by “according to …. “. The reader does not make much of a distinction between voices, though once yu get into the book, you do see subtle pace and tonal changes that give good clues, and they are always consistent with each character. More to the point, the author distinguishes each voice using speech patterns, rhythms, and idiom. This makes every character have a unique voice, and once you learn them, the author could omit the identification and the narrator could omit the voice distinctions, and you’d still know who is talking. I enjoyed this book for its plot, its character development, and for its writing skill.

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