Westchester County burns while an evil genius fiddles around nefariously. He’s ruthless, he’s greedy, he’s devilishly clever; he’s as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel and as fiendish as Hannibal Lecter—and Chief Fire Marshal Jake Ferguson has to catch him before he makes a conflagration out of the entire state of New York. It begins when Chief Jake is rousted from his bed one summer night by a phone call from his trusty second-in-command. He hears those dreaded words: “I think we’ve got another one.” A house belonging to a senior executive of Morson-Grayhead, an eminent Wall Street investment firm, is in flames. Discovered chained to her bed was his wife, raped before being roasted alive. And it is, in fact, the same m.o.: a second Morson-Grayhead executive; another raped wife burned alive. Clearly, someone is sending a message, although, to Jake’s fury, Severin Rybeck, the chairman and CEO of Morson-Grayhead, stubbornly refuses to acknowledge it as such—until the madman strikes yet again. But why is all this happening? And how does the motive (whatever it is) connect to the investment house? Or to Severin himself? The answer isn’t simple, but then you knew it wouldn’t be. It involves vengeance, extortion, and, of course, rampant insanity—that useful catch-all for writers who care more about the what than the why. Halfway through the story, Jake identifies his firebug. The rest is chase, chase, chase, ending in a climactic auto-da-fÇ as the evil genius and his scams go up in smoke. Very little finesse in this second effort (after the paperback Downtick, 1998), but sincerity there’s plenty of. Ashbaugh really cares about his firefighters. He just doesn’t write about them well enough.