Review

Vertical Burn

by Earl Emerson



The contact, if any, that the majority of folks have with firemen
is limited. Unless one needs emergency treatment, or a hapless male
sets fire to his kitchen on Thanksgiving morning while preparing
the holiday dinner, one might live their entire lives without
coming into direct contact with fire department personnel,
basically faceless people who fight fires and, for the most part,
go home at the end of the shift. That perception, inaccurate to
begin with, changed dramatically following the attack upon The
World Trade Center. Contemporaneous films of the rescue attempts at
Ground Zero, showing firefighters with fear in their eyes
nonetheless marching resolutely into the buildings that would
become the instruments of their passing, will never be forgotten by
anyone who watched them.

The view of any city's Best and Bravest is examined with even more
clarity by Earl Emerson in VERTICAL BURN. Emerson is a
quarter-century veteran of the Seattle Fire Department. VERTICAL
BURN is by no means his first novel, being preceded by an
impressive list that includes 11 previous detective novels
featuring his Thomas Black protagonist. VERTICAL BURN, however, is
particularly memorable, and not simply in light of the terrorist
attacks. Emerson takes his readers into the middle of the fire ---
and if you're under the impression that these people just hold a
hose on a fire until it goes out, think again.

VERTICAL BURN is told from the viewpoint of John Finney, who, like
Emerson, is a veteran of the Seattle Police Department. Finney's
career with the department is on an upward trajectory until a
fateful evening when his Station 10 answers a warehouse fire call
at Leary Way, which ends tragically with the death of a fellow
firefighter. While an inquiry into the incident does not place
blame for the death on Finney, it doesn't exonerate him, either,
and ultimately, effectively results in the denial of his promotion.
Or so it would seem. The official account of what happened is at
odds with what Finney remembers as having taken place; there also
seem to be too many fires occurring at the same time in the city to
be coincidental. Finney continues to press for further
investigation, but when a fire breaks out in an abandoned house and
Finney is fingered, incredibly, as the arsonist, it becomes clear
to him that there is a conspiracy against him. Finney is left with
no doubts when an attempt is made on his life. Left with a
dwindling number of allies, Finney's only hope is to find out who
is behind the actions against him and the fire department, and
their motives. Meanwhile, however, the city continues to
burn...

Emerson's writes in a no-nonsense style that rings true-to-life; if
anyone would know the territory covered in VERTICAL BURN, it would
be Emerson. You won't hear a fire engine siren again without
thinking of Finney, and Seattle, after reading this one.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011

Vertical Burn
by Earl Emerson

  • Publication Date: May 14, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345445899
  • ISBN-13: 9780345445896