A rookie arson investigator gets a chance to work with her idol in probing a suspicious fire that killed a promising young actress.
Fritillary Quilter first becomes interested in fire when, as a teenage babysitter, she’s accused of inadvertently setting a blaze and rumpled arson expert Ike Blessing gets her off the hook by proving her innocence. Impressed and grateful, Tilly follows in Ike’s professional footsteps, though he’s unaware of his impact on her and doesn’t see her again for a decade. Meantime, she pays her professional dues in a series of cases, related in detail in a memoir-like first-person narrative, until she’s reunited with Ike by abrasive spinster Faith Browning, who’s suing everyone in sight after a fire in her family home kills her beautiful younger sister Dorsey, a fledgling actress. Almost immediately, Ike senses foul play, a suspicion confirmed when the autopsy report on Dorsey indicates she was already dead when the fire started. Falling easily into the role of apprentice to Ike’s salty investigative veteran, Tilly also does the bulk of the legwork, which includes interviewing Dorsey’s fellow cast members (she was playing Emily in a midtown production of Our Town at the time of her death) and college sorority sisters.
Reuben (Spent Matches, 1996, etc.) writes unevenly, and there’s scant mystery, but the tale catches fire whenever Ike and Tilly launch into one of their animated discussions of forensic evidence.