HOUSE ON FIRE by Denis Hamill


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 A fireman's search for his missing wife and daughter leads to lessons about manhood and redemption in a bracing third (Machine, 1984, etc.) by Daily News columnist Hamill. Brooklyn-rooted Kevin Dempsey has just bought his dream house for wife Polly and their daughter Zoe. But on moving day, Polly calls and tells him that she's leaving him for another man, that Zoe is not his biological daughter, and that Zoe can't be found. Distraught, Kevin starts to lose his edge as a firefighter and even his mind, ending up involuntarily committed to a rehab facility, where he falls hard for his therapist, Gail Levy. That leaves the search for Polly and Zoe to Kevin's older brother Frank Dempsey, an emotionally wrecked, alcoholic cop who's about to be indicted for stealing $1.5 million from the police evidence room. Frank enlists the aid of Sarah Cross, Polly's best friend, who had loaned Polly her life savings of $100,000 for a business deal and now wants her money back. An unlikely pairing, beautiful health-nut Sarah and wasted Frank begin a tender, doomed romance, with Sarah trying to save Frank from his prodigious boozing and psychic self-destruction and Frank finally finding the one person he can confess to about the family secret that led him to steal the evidence money. For the first third of the outing, Hamill overdescribes his characters's multiple problems and defects, like a dog circling before it lies down; but once Frank and Sarah get onto Polly's trail, and Kevin and Gail start to grapple with their feelings for each other, the author moves his characters toward a gripping, hard-earned finale that creates both suspense and a fine sense of closure. With brutal clarity, Hamill creates a memorable cast and sets his people on various journeys (literal and psychological) that may not end well for everyone here, but do far better than that for the reader. (First printing of 35,000; $45,000 ad/promo)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-87113-614-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1995


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