Smoke jumpers

I'd thought that James Patterson, on his own and with co-authors, penned the most novels until I came across Nora Roberts. Under her own name and also the pseudonym JD Robb she has ground out 190 works of fiction to date without a co-author. To her credit, talent-wise she gives Patterson a run for his money.

Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts, 472pp 2012 Platkus paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 350 baht.

Roberts doesn't mention how much research she does on her stories, yet from the amount of information she dispenses the reader is aware that it's extensive. And in Chasing Fire, she chose a subject curiously overlooked by virtually all her contemporaries. Curious because forest fires, wherever they may be, are commonplace.

Fires, written about and screened, are generally urban occurrences such as The Towering Inferno and war-time bombings. However, when was the last time you read a book or saw a movie about a forest going up in flames? Which is what this extraordinary prolific author gives us for more than 400 pages.

Montana is the setting and the protagonists are smoke jumpers, with a few exceptions. Rowan, 26, is the heroine. Following in her retired father's footsteps, she's been at it for eight years and earned the right to lead a team as well as instruct novices. Burning up calories in her strenuous work, she eats like a horse without gaining weight. Rowan's experience and courage, hot temper and loyalty to her mates have the admiration of men but the jealousy of women in other professions. When the body of a malicious enemy is found, Rowan is the prime suspect. But she has an airtight alibi. She was a bed with one of her students at the time.

Other killings follow, mainly of members of the team. The worst scenario comes true: their equipment is being sabotaged. Yet only the team has access to it. Which means that one of them is the murderer. Roberts drags a red herring before each. They've all bickered among themselves. But enough to hold a grudge and seek revenge?

When not fighting numerous fires _ the best part of the story _ there are two romances: between Rowan and her student Gull, and between her widower dad and his new love. Some sex. Rowan is voracious in more ways than one. The author is apparently not a diehard feminist. We are left with no doubts about what she thinks of bitchy women.

The 82nd and 101st Airborne are always highly praised for their parachuting into battle, Chasing Fire makes a good case that they don't hold a candle to the courageous smoke jumpers. It didn't take this reviewer long to become a Nora Roberts fan.

A Wanted Man by Lee Child, 427pp 2012 Bantam paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 750 baht.

Hero on the run

A British author who looked for broader horizons, Lee Child moved to North America. Crime thrillers are his forte, Jack Reacher his literary creation. The protagonist in his 17 novels to date is a former US military police major with no family who wishes to see the whole country.

This he does by hitch-hiking, taking a bus if need be from coast to coast and Canada to Mexico. At 6'5", wearing cheap clothes, working as a day labourer to keep him going, he's strong as an ox. When he meets a woman along the way and the chemistry is right, there's a one-night stand.

Bringing to mind Sylvester Stallone in the first and only good Rambo film, lawmen initially have a negative impression of him. But looking up his record, full of medals and awards, they prevail on him to help solve their cases. For better or worse, Reacher leaves a greater impression on readers than the plots of the book.

He never backs away from a fight regardless of the odds. And if guns are involved, he draws first and shoots straightest. The title of A Wanted Man refers to our hero. Hitch-hiking in Nebraska, he gets a ride in a car with two men and a woman. Unknown to him, the men need him more than he needs them.

Child devotes hundreds of pages to the ride through the Midwest. There are roadblocks in every state, which they pass through without note. The reason is the point of the story. An eyewitness reported two men walking away from a dead body in Omaha, the corpse CIA. An FBI woman special agent conducts the search.

The plot expands to include Muslim terrorists, Syrians this time around. The author throws in more plot twists than a corkscrew. One of the two fugitives isn't a terrorist. The woman kidnapped along with the car they've stolen isn't a victim. And the FBI lady ordered to arrest or shoot Reacher joins forces with him.

What all crime thriller scriveners have in common is that once the characters enter a cave, a tunnel, even a building, a good many chapters are spent describing every nook and cranny. In this case, it's an abandoned US military cold war nuclear storage facility.

In it, Reacher takes on two dozen terrorists by his lonesome. Lots of doors, secret passages, ambushes. It even has nuclear waste. Is that what the nogoodniks intend to pour into the reservoirs? Hold on. There's a twist there too. No surprise that he's back to thumbing rides on the last page.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Bernard Trink
Position: Freelance Writer