Set in and around Sheffield, England, this debut novel introduces a unique and somewhat unusual team of police officers.
D.S. Adam Tyler – keenly observant and very sharp witted, a taciturn loner, gay, conflicted, and emotionally damaged. The son of a policeman, Tyler now works on cold cases following an altercation with a co-worker. Very tall and handsome, Tyler is lusted after by his female colleagues even though they know about his sexual preference for men. Some of his male colleagues slyly demean him via innuendo and he is not popular. Behind his back they call him “Homo-Cop”: part faggot, part robot.
D.I. Jim Doggett – a contemporary of Tyler’s father who has requested Tyler work on this case with him. Although he appreciates Tyler’s outstanding record when it comes to solving cold cases, he keeps Tyler on his toes with his snarkiness and sarcasm. Doggett is known to have bent the rules on occasion to procure his desired result.
D.C. Amina Rabbani – a young Indian constable who still lives at home with her parents. She is fiercely intelligent and very ambitious. She has lived in England all her life and has a strong Geordie accent. Requested for by D.S. Tyler, this is her first time working as a plain clothes detective, something she has long aspired to do.
D.C.I. Diane Jordan – another contemporary of Tyler’s father and also Tyler’s godmother. Jordan is famous for her ‘hands-on’ approach which makes her unpopular with some of her staff.
Their first outing sees them investigating a cold case in which a body has been discovered by workers renovating a fire damaged house. They soon discover that the body was bricked up behind a basement wall while still alive – some six months before the fire that damaged the dwelling.
Tyler’s first suspect just happens to be the victim’s son Oscar, and by coincidence is also the man Tyler had a one-night stand with the night before. After almost leaving it too late, Tyler confesses his conflict of interest to Doggett, yet Doggett dismisses his concern and keeps him on the case. Tyler wonders why….
Edna Burnside and Lily Bainbridge – Two elderly spinsters whose cottage backs upon the “Old Vicarage” where the body was found. Also, they cared for the young Oscar regularly after his mother deserted the family many years ago. Now quite feeble, they know something that could help Tyler and his team, yet are unable or unwilling to do so. Edna is dying of cancer and Lily is suffering from mild dementia. She knows she should be able to remember something important, but the memories have escaped into the ether of her illness. Lily begins to receive threatening letters, yet she cannot fathom what they pertain to.
Meanwhile, a pyromaniac is burning things in Castledene, and Tyler feels that these fires have some connection to his case – he is just not sure what.
Also, a Lowry painting, found hanging within the burnt-out house intrigues Tyler. He wonders what part the painting plays in the crime… if any. The painting’s name? “The Firestarter”.
I found D.S. Tyler a bit hard to warm up to at first, but once I did there was no going back. He is withdrawn, a flawed and damaged loner, who just happens to be an extremely handsome, gay, police sergeant. The author has brought Tyler and his team to life vividly. The two elderly ladies were portrayed with empathy and understanding.
The evolving and complicated relationships amongst the team were a delight to read and I cannot wait to see how the personalities develop and coalesce in future books. I’m eager to read more about Tyler’s intriguing backstory and how it has shaped the man he is now.
The pacing was nigh on perfect with the interruption of the narrative caused only by the insertion of blog posts by the ‘Firestarter‘ – and these were essential to the plot. The entire story took place in just under a week which made for compelling reading.
A strong police procedural with themes of family secrets, arson, and perversion which reads more like the work of a seasoned and successful novelist, rather than the debut novel which it is.
The ending explained everything, though not quite in the way I expected – which is a good thing.
I was delighted to learn that this is the first in a new series of police procedurals, one which I intend to read more of. Highly, highly recommended. Brilliant debut!
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from G.P. Putnam’s Sons via Edelweiss. ISBN: 9780525542025 – ASIN: B07SKSKSNG – 368 pages
“Firewatching” has vastly different covers –
depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean you live on.
Russ Thomas was born in Essex, raised in Berkshire and now lives in Sheffield. He grew up in the 80s reading anything he could get his hands on at the library, writing stories, watching large amounts of television, playing video-games, and largely avoiding the great outdoors. He spent five years trying to master playing the electronic organ and another five trying to learn Spanish. It didn’t take him too long to realize that he’d be better off sticking to the writing.
After a few “proper” jobs (among them: pot-washer, optician’s receptionist, supermarket warehouse operative, call-centre telephonist and storage salesman) he discovered the joys of book-selling, where he could talk to people about books all day.
Firewatching is his debut novel and the first book in a new series of crime thrillers set in Sheffield.
Follow Russ Thomas on Twitter.