Spenser fiddles while Boston burns.
It began a year ago with a fire in Holy Innocents, a South End church that burned to the ground with three firefighters trapped in the basement. Despite all the fires that have followed, Capt. Jack McGee, a close friend of Lt. Pat Dougherty, has been stonewalled at every turn by the authorities, who insist they can’t even be sure fires were set at two different places, as Dougherty claimed just before becoming one of those victims, and he wants Spenser to ask the tough questions, without of course mentioning McGee's name. Never reluctant to take on the world’s troubles, Spenser makes the rounds, and in no time at all he’s succeeded in antagonizing members of the police department, the arson squad, and the Sparks Association, whose members devote themselves to providing aid and comfort to Boston’s firefighters. More consequentially, the questions he asks Tommy "Tommy Torch" Torccelli, the veteran arsonist doing time for kiddie porn, also bring him up against Jackie DeMarco, a crime lord who’s never been a fan of Spenser’s. None of which would be a big problem if DeMarco and Tyler King, his designated arsonist, were actually behind the blazes. But they’re not; as Atkins (Robert B. Parker’s Kickback, 2015, etc.) makes clear from the get-go, the real arsonists are a trio of wannabe firefighters who think they can rally public support and funding for the Boston Fire Department by showing everyone how thinly its resources are stretched. If you think this motive sounds implausible, just consider how much it would explain about the current activities of Congress.
Not much energy or conviction in the larger rhythms of this case, but the scene-by-scene, line-by-line pleasures are authentic enough.