cover image Going Crazy in Public: A Mac Fontana Mystery

Going Crazy in Public: A Mac Fontana Mystery

Earl Emerson. William Morrow & Company, $24 (241pp) ISBN 978-0-688-13750-2

In this chatty whodunit, fire chief Mac Fontana (Morons and Madmen), a no-nonsense and likable guy, takes on a serial arsonist who is toasting tiny Staircase, Wash., one corner at a time. The fires are only a nuisance at first, but the horizon darkens with the first fire fatality in the town's 100-year history. Residents assume the culprit is the same one who has been hard at work in nearby Seattle. But after Fontana's son is endangered by one of the blazes, the chief is convinced the arsonist is someone from Staircase-maybe someone in his department-with a grudge against him. There are plenty of candidates: the firefighter who didn't make it onto the force because his job was given to a woman; the pompous town safety director who is after Fontana's job. Most intriguing of all, at least to the townspeople and the national media, is the possibility that the fires are being set by the young son of a movie star who has come to Staircase to escape her celebrity. Emerson, himself a Seattle firefighter, makes a convincing case that fire departments aren't just a bunch of guys and a couple of dalmations hanging out at the station-although Fontana can chew the fat with the best of them. In his view, arsonists may be a step or two above the tabloid press. The humor is of the physical sort, the characters are refreshingly unromantic and the action will leave readers with a compulsion to check their smoke detector batteries regularly. (June)