cover image The Dead Horse Paint Company

The Dead Horse Paint Company

Earl Emerson. William Morrow & Company, $24 (2300pp) ISBN 978-0-688-13751-9

Heroic, colorful and flawed, the men and women attracted to firefighting fuel the excitement in this deftly constructed, compelling fifth Mac Fontana mystery (following Going Crazy in Public). Fontana, a former Seattle fire inspector, is now ensconced as chief of the fire department of little Staircase, Wash., with three paid staff, counting himself, and assorted volunteers. When Fontana's crew responds to a report of a car fire in nearby snowy Snoqualmie Pass, they find a corpse, a ""crispy critter,"" in the trunk. The victim proves to be Fontana's former and much-reviled fire chief, Edgar Callahan, the man in charge when a deadly fire at The Dead Horse Paint Company claimed the lives of nine firefighters and changed the future of the survivors. Though many firemen blamed Callahan's actions for the lost lives, he was absolved and promoted in what clearly seemed a cover-up of something. Among the bitter, scarred firemen who survived may be one who took brutal revenge. Two of the men lost brothers; another wrote a bestselling account of the fire; another's dereliction may have cost lives. Fontana relives the night of the fire in vivid, effective flashbacks and sifts through the rubble of broken lives to find a killer as Emerson constructs a brooding, engaging tale of personal and professional conflict. (June)