A British ex-firefighter gets a second chance at his old profession during the Blitz in London.
Newcomer Cottam, an England-based journalist who's worked for GQ among others, takes a well-worn setting and tries to spice things up by throwing a heroic firefighter and a decent amount of skullduggery into the mix here. Brusque to the point of moroseness and definitely not one for the finer things, protagonist Jack Finlay is sweating it out with the British army in North Africa when the story opens. A directive comes down from high above ordering Jack to be removed to London, where his years of service as a courageous and somewhat famous firefighter are to be put to use battling Nazi firebombing. The journalist in Cottam knows how to get to the point and within pages Jack is in London in the midst of the Blitz, doing what he can to protect a set of strategically important buildings from Nazi incendiaries. Cottam’s background also shows in the story’s well-researched detail, everything from the sudless whale soap the characters unsuccessfully use to scrub the soot off themselves to the technical minutiae of firefighting. Jack himself is somewhat of a cipher, holding within him a deep-seated proletarian pride and mulish stubbornness but not much else. Even when he falls in love, there’s little more to be found under his stony surface. Normally, such things would not matter overly much, as the ongoing Blitz, raging fires, and suspicious behavior of Jack’s superiors should provide enough distraction. But Cottam might have set his sights just a bit too high here, trying for a seriousness and a depth of tone that the occasionally muddled storyline can't support.
An exciting and punchy debut thriller with passion to spare; unfortunately, it loses its direction well before the conclusion.