Steve Chaput's Reviews > Into the Inferno

Into the Inferno by Earl Emerson
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Apr 07, 2010

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Read in March, 2004

If a writer is doing his job, he’ll research his topic before writing. You can always tell the good ones because they never get the little details wrong.
Then you have writers like Earl Emerson. Emerson knows his subjects, in this case firefighters, because he himself is a member of the Seattle Fire Department. He knows what it is like to walk into a burning building. He doesn’t need to talk to an expert, because he lives this every day. Emerson is also a very talented writer.
Emerson has already created two different series in his almost twenty years of writing professionally. One features private detective Thomas Black and the other fireman/sheriff Mac Fontana. In this work he creates yet another character, much different, perhaps much more flawed than either of his better-known creations.
Jim Swope is a single father of two young daughters. He’s also one of a small number of full-time, paid members of a mostly volunteer fire department in the Pacific Northwest. While he likes to think of himself as a decent man, he is also battling elements of his past. His mother abandoned him to a religious zealot of a father, who forced the young Jim into the streets to proselytize. Running away to join the Army, Swope placed both emotional and physical distance between himself and his father. Now the old man spends his last years near comatose in a nearby nursing home, rarely if ever visited by his only son.
Swope awakens one morning to find the back of his hands covered in a waxy coating. He has the first sign of the “syndrome” and has a week until he will surely be no better than his father. How did this happen and can it be stopped?
Beginning the story almost at the last part of the tale, Emerson takes us back to where it started, or at least where Jim enters the picture. Emerson is able to engage the reader almost immediately, throwing us right into the middle of a situation that moves at a rapid pace, but never confuses or loses you along the way. Able to write quiet scenes of a father spending what may be his last hours with his daughters, Emerson can also write horrific scenes of fire and their aftermath.
As Jim looks into his ‘condition’, as well as the fate of several of his fellow firefighters, he discovers that there are people who will not only try to prevent him from discovering the cause, but are more than happy to end his life (and those of his family) to keep their secrets. Swope discovers that he can’t even trust those he has considered his friends, as well as finding that those he trusts the least may end up being his only salvation.
Jim finds that he and his co-workers are not the first to have suffered and that forces are working to keep that fact a secret, no matter how many lives may be ruined or ended. When your life is nearing its end we discover just what it is that is most important. Jim discovers that, even more than his own life, he fears for that of his two daughters.
Emerson fills his tale with a large cast of interesting, if not always likeable, characters. As the story progresses we begin to find that many of these folks are not who they appeared to be at first. Even Swope is unsure of who he can trust as he tries to unravel the riddle of his last days.
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