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THE SMOKE ROOM by Earl Emerson Kirkus Star


by Earl Emerson

Pub Date: May 31st, 2005
ISBN: 0-345-46290-4
Publisher: Ballantine

A good man, a skilled and dedicated firefighter, cracks his moral compass, in the best yet from the Seattle firefighter and Shamus Award–winning author.

Twenty-four-year old Jason Gum thinks he has his future planned. He likes his job, knows he’s got the right stuff for it and is studying for the lieutenant’s exam, confident he’ll pass. Then a pig, a double-ribbon winner at a county fair, off-loads himself out of an airplane at 11,000 feet and lands on Iola Pederson’s roof, starting a conflagration. After that, nothing in Jason’s life goes according to plan. He rescues Mrs. Pederson and becomes her lover—perhaps a pardonable mistake. He’s young, after all, and she’s sexy and determined. Dallying with her, he misses a call and Engine 29 leaves without him. Two of his colleagues, though aware of his dereliction, choose not to rat him out, and he soon discovers he’s in their power. Robert Johnson and Ted Tronstad, who share Jason’s shift, are both seriously unstable, Tronstad downright pathological. Then Engine 29 responds to a 911 at the home of a retired bank-robber, where Tronstad finds a bundle of stashed swag and elects for grand larceny. This leads to an alliance between Johnson and Tronstad, with Jason as odd man out. It also leads to a series of cold-blooded cover-up homicides. Inexperienced and scared, Jason doesn't do what his better angels tell him to: call the cops. “I am the king of inaction,” he says of himself bitterly. At length, he faces the loss of everything he cares most about: his career, the woman he loves, his view of himself as worthwhile. Is there a way out? Well, there shouldn't be, and he knows it. Life, however, is a game-player.

Emerson (Pyro, 2004, etc.), always reliable, surpasses everything he’s done before with this sometimes painfully funny, occasionally poignant suspenser that adheres to its genre roots while achieving considerably more.