SMOKE by Catherine McKenzie


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As a wildfire threatens a Colorado town, two old friends confront their own dangerous home fires—one is on the brink of divorce, the other suspects her teenage son of arson.

The novel opens with a domestic bombshell when Elizabeth asks Ben for a divorce. Years of happiness have been followed by failed attempts at having a child and now endless bickering. The urgency of their crumbling marriage is momentarily forgotten when a wildfire begins to encroach on their upscale Rocky Mountain town. Though she now handles investigations for the town's prosecuting attorney, Elizabeth used to suit up and battle wildfires; with her expertise, she's become involved with the investigation. She begins by interviewing John Phillips, whose house, the believed locus of the fire, has burned down. He tells her about a group of teenagers who have been harassing him for months; it's mostly taken the form of harmless pranks, but they have been making a habit of drinking beer around his fire pit. One of the boys may be Mindy's son, Angus. Though once best friends, Elizabeth and Mindy haven't spoken since a hurtful argument broke their friendship. Now it feels to Mindy that only Elizabeth can save her son. As Elizabeth gets closer to the truth about the fire, down-to-earth Mindy and her pretentious friends, bitingly depicted, arrange for the annual Fall Fling fundraiser to benefit John Phillips—that is, if he really is a victim. Although McKenzie crafts a well-paced story (and a mystery as to who started the fire), Elizabeth's failing marriage, the emotional heart of the novel, feels underdeveloped, especially so when a surprise brings husband and wife together.

A solid if uninspired drama with a bit of criminal intrigue thrown in.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-5039-4721-4
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2015


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