A body is found bricked into the walls of a house - from the state of the hands, it's clear he was buried alive, that he had tried to claw his way out before he died. The victim is quickly linked to a missing person's case and DS Adam Tyler is called.
As the sole representative of the Cold Case Review Unit, Tyler understands he's been placed there to keep him out of the way following an 'incident'. So when the case falls in his lap, he grabs the opportunity to fix his stagnating career.
But then he discovers he has a connection to the case that hopelessly compromises him, and he makes the snap decision not to tell his superiors. With such a brutal and sadistic murder to unpick, Tyler must move carefully to find out the truth without destroying the case or himself.
Meanwhile, someone in the city knows exactly what happened to the body. Someone who is watching Adam closely. Someone with an unhealthy obsession with fire...
Author Russ Thomas was born in Essex, raised in Berkshire and now lives in Sheffield. After various 'proper' jobs (including pot-washer, optician's receptionist and storage salesman) he discovered the joy of bookselling, where he could talk to people about books all day. Firewatching is his first novel.
I'm in the fortunate position to be able to read a few books a week - and my pile to be read is so large, and so teetering, that I feel guilty about truly indulging in a book. Firewatching is one in which I found myself rationing the book out - desperate to reach the conclusion but also eager to eke out every last drop of enjoyment and mystery.
I've struggled with crime books in the past - I've been a huge fan of Ian Rankin since I was a teenager, but it's quite an oversaturated market and it can be hard to know where to start when wanting to find a new Detective or Investigator to latch onto. But in Firewatching I think Russ Thomas has created the most compelling lead since Will Dean's Tuva Moodyson appeared a few years ago, and Firewatching is one of the most compelling stories I've read in some time.
Lead DS Adam Tyler is compelling, troubled, but utterly believable, and whilst it's sad to say that this is still surprising, it's nice to see a gay character appear in a crime novel who isn't a sterotype, but a layered, three-dimensional human being. Yes, he's incredibly hot, and yes, he hooks up with men, but he's utterly believable, and easy to relate to. As a lead he's compelling - and I found myself increasingly worried for his welfare as the book continued. And, as a gay man, it was really bloody nice to read a crime novel with a gay officer as the lead, whose sexuality is part of his life, but isn't necessarily the sole characteristic that defines him, as I find can often be the case in fiction.
man who In fact my only issue with Tyler is that at one point another described him as "a prettier Jake Gyllenhall", which I (through extensive research) have deemed an utterly impossible statement - if Jake Gyllenhaal could be any prettier we might as well all give up and start wearing paper bags over our heads, as the pinnacle of beauty in mankind would have been reached...
That insignificant grumble aside, Firewatching is tightly plotted, and threads a number of fascinating plots together to the extent that each twist is genuinely surprising, and leads up to a conclusion that left me rather breathless. Characters are likeable and well-rounded, with Thomas avoiding stereotypes whether positive or negative in drawing his characters - cuddly old ladies are shaped into something far more complex, gruff senior policemen turn out to have slightly more to them, and Tyler's a thoroughly fascinating man who I can't wait to read more about. Do check Firewatching out - it comes highly recommended.