cover image Firetrap


Earl Emerson, . . Ballantine, $24.95 (350pp) ISBN 978-0-345-46292-3

This uneven stand-alone suspense novel from Seattle fire lieutenant Emerson (The Smoke Room ) opens promisingly with the gritty first-person narration of Capt. Trey Brown, a Seattle firefighter, touching on past trauma that led to his estrangement from his family. Brown, one of the few African-Americans in the department's leadership, has just survived a fatal fire (with echoes of the Bronx's Happy Land tragedy) that has sparked citywide riots incited by suspicions that African-American victims were left to die by the Seattle Fire Department. Unfortunately, Emerson switches narrators, most often alternating Brown's perspective with that of Jamie Estevez, the gorgeous local TV journalist who's independently investigating the city's response to the blaze. The predictable romantic tension between Brown and Estevez doesn't generate much heat, and the revelations of the forces behind the loss of life will surprise few. Still, the strong first chapter should reassure longtime fans and convince new readers to give Emerson another chance. (Apr.)