cover image INTO THE INFERNO


Earl Emerson, . . Ballantine, $23.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-345-44591-9

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INTO THE INFERNOEarl Emerson. Ballantine, $23.95 (352p) ISBN 0-345-44591-0

Seattle firefighter Jim Swope—the irresistible protagonist of this latest high-octane thriller from the author of the Thomas Black detective series—is, in his own words, "destined for a jail cell, a straitjacket, or more likely, to end up dancing the funky chicken in a fusillade of bullets." This divorced, womanizing father of two has just realized he has exactly six days to figure out the nature of the mysterious ailment that's been killing off his North Bend Fire and Rescue colleagues—and is about to fell him, too. It all started several months ago, when he and other firefighters reported to the scene of a highway accident. It was here that Swope met emotionally unstable trucker Holly Riggs, a woman who became his girlfriend, then his ex-girlfriend, then his stalker. When Holly's sister, Stephanie, finds her in a coma months after the accident, she figures it was a suicide attempt. Only when Jim's colleagues also fall into comas does Jim realize that they were all poisoned at the scene of the accident. Each victim has only a week to live from the day his symptoms begin, and Jim already has trembling hands and a headache. He and Stephanie team up to uncover a tangled web of corporate corruption extending far beyond the Pacific Northwest, but centering on a nearby "hazmat" facility. Emerson, a veteran Seattle firefighter, infuses the firehouse scenes with expert detail, but it's the full-bodied characterization and wry humor of "mad dog" Swope that really sizzle. Readers who like a little hot sauce with their mystery will snatch this up. (Mar.)

Forecast:Firefighter Swope is several times sexier than the protagonist of Emerson's previous thriller, Vertical Burn. This will do well as a stand-alone effort, though readers may hope it's the start of a new series. Five-city author tour.