BENEATH THE FLAMES by Gregory Lee  Renz


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A debut novel chronicles the struggles of a troubled firefighter. 

Renz’s story centers on Mitch Garner, a farmer and volunteer firefighter in a town called Milroy in Wisconsin. Mitch starts showing signs of PTSD when he is unable to save a girl in a fire. That is compounded when he accidentally starts a blaze that almost destroys the family farm, which he works with his brother, Chris, and his unforgiving father, Sid. To redeem himself, Mitch applies to become a professional firefighter in nearby Milwaukee. His father kicks him out of the house, and the move drives a wedge between Mitch and his girlfriend, Jennie McAdams. In Milwaukee, Mitch sees how racism affects the fire department and the gang-controlled, rotting neighborhoods around him. He finds an apartment with Miss Bernie, the mother of fellow recruit Jamal Jackson. Driven by his personal tragedies and the recent 9/11 attacks, and guided by the wisdom of Miss Bernie and his crew of veteran firefighters, Mitch becomes a hero while the family farm and his personal relationships suffer. The Mitch-as-savior storyline starts to feel a bit overdone by the novel’s third act. But then the author turns it around and shows how everyone the firefighter assisted, including two girls named Jasmine and Alexus Richardson, returns the favor and helps him find the redemption he has been seeking. Renz draws on his years of experience as a firefighter to bring a hardscrabble authenticity to his novel. He packs the tale with plenty of action and a lot of heart. His firefighting sequences are detailed and thrilling, placing readers right in front of the flames. His prose is clean and, at times, poetic: “The bright moon still owned the sky, but the birds were already chirping in anticipation of another sunrise.” Mitch and Miss Bernie are well-drawn characters, and a lot of the minor players are infused with great personality, aside from Jennie, who seems to exist only as a foil for Mitch’s emotions. She also provides some surprise help in a pivotal scene that comes off as ridiculous and almost spoils the ending.

For readers looking for a book with an uplifting story and breathtaking action, this is a worthy read.

ISBN: 978-1-59598-687-0
Page count: 323pp
Publisher: Three Towers Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
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