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California Fire and Life Hardcover – Jun 15 1999

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (June 15 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679454314
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679454311
  • Product Dimensions: 24.3 x 18.5 x 3.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 771 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #679,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

Before he became a bestselling novelist with The Death and Life of Bobby Z, Don Winslow spent 15 years as an arson investigator. His expert knowledge pays off in California Fire and Life, a giant fireball of a thriller about ace arson investigator Jack Wade. Want to know why thick, oily soot on glass might be a sign of arson? Or why arsonists never burn their dogs? Or what the presence of "alligator char" means? You'll learn about this and much more, as Jack sifts through the ashes of a mansion in Orange County on behalf of the insurance company that he works for. A young wife and mother named Pamela Vale burned to death in the fire. Bentley, the sloppy and possibly corrupt sheriff's department fire investigator, claims that it was a case of drinking too much vodka and dropping a cigarette. Jack has his doubts--especially when he meets the woman's ex-husband, Nicky Vale, a slick Russian entrepreneur (read mafia chief) born Daziatnik Valeshin.

Before signing off on the multimillion-dollar insurance policy on Mrs. Vale's life and house, Jack does some more digging. Meanwhile, his old girlfriend--a policewoman who just happens to be the dead woman's half-sister--finds a link between Nicky Vale's Russian mob and a Vietnamese gang of criminals. Jack's insurance firm begins to act strangely, pressuring him to settle the Vale claim. There may be a little too much technical data in California Fire and Life, but Jack--who lives only to surf and investigate arson--is still a fresh and fascinating creation. --Dick Adler

From Publishers Weekly

Jack Wade is "basically a Dalmatian": when a fire happens he's there. Jack, who works to live and lives to surf, was a sheriff's department fire investigator until he got caught planting evidence in a warehouse arson to protect a witness, and is now the top claims adjuster for California Fire and Life. That means sifting around in the ashes of other people's livesAor in this case, deaths. When Pamela Vale passes out drunk and accidentally burns down the west wing of her Dana Point mansion, along with half a million dollars of her husband's antique furniture, Jack thinks maybe it wasn't an accident. There's no smoke in her lungs, and the smoke from the fire should have been yellow or orange, not the reported blood red, plus the dog was outside. "People will never burn the pooch," Jack knows, and he begins to search through the remains. Winslow (The Death and Life of Bobby Z), who himself worked more than 15 years with L.A. arson investigators, follows Jack through the burned char of the Vale house, where, in the novel's most compelling scene, he tracks down the history of the fire and reads its secrets. Pitted against him is a formidable adversary: Pamela's estranged husband, Daziatnik Valeshin, now known as Nicky Vale, who has survived a Russian prison camp to make himself over into the model of a perfect Southern California gentleman. Jack's investigation is packed with extrasARussian organized crime, faked freeway accidents, a $50 million insurance scam. But Southern California is captured perfectly in all its hyperbolic splendor, its overdeveloped beachfronts, its sudden, mysterious blazes and freeway chills. If the plot contains a few too many contrivances and coincidences, Winslow's knowledge of his subject and his territory, and the narrative's rapid pace, keep the entertainment value at steady flame. 60,000 first printing; simultaneous Random House audio. (July)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

Format: Hardcover
I was looking through my library for something to battle the "blahs" and found this gem. Don Winslow's book is excellent with a clever and tightly constructed plot. The story is written from the point of view of an observer who describes what the colorful and believable characters say, do and think. The realistic dialogue reveals the thought processes of the main characters in a way that cleverly allows the reader to anticipate and follow the action.
Jack Wade is an ex-cop, arson investigator who is employed as a claims adjuster-arson specialist for a large insurance company, California Fire and Life. He investigates a fire claim submitted by Daziatnik Valeshin,aka Nicky Vale, a Russian KGB military officer in the U.S. to investigate/infiltrate/use the Russian Mafia. He uses his connections to make money and put himself in a position of power. Jack's investigation of Vale's claim uncovers arson and murder. Jack stands up against his insurance co. which wants to pay the claim. Why? It is all inter-related, clever and very, very entertaining. It is funny, easy to relate to and would be a movie hit if done right. Highly Recommended!
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By Simonetta Cavilli on Aug. 27 2000
Format: Hardcover
Jack Wade an arson adjuster for California Fire and Life Mutual, he understands and reads fires like no other person I have ever come across. The first half of the book is exactly an EXTREMELY detailed version of how Jack reads fire and how he became an arson adjustor...unfortunately for me, I really can't endure page after page of detailed descriptions for fires and gas chromatography - and I am a scientist!
Finally, after skipping several pages of descriptions about burn marks, patters on the wall and carpet, I finally see a story emerging, but by the time this happens, it is filled with ridiculous characters and plots that I can barely keep my eyes four o'clock in the afternoon!
I had to put this book down about 1/2 way through, I really didn't care anymore about 'whodunit' or 'why'...
If you have insommnia or you really love fires, then buy this book but otherwise stick to Dennis Lehane, John Sandford or James Patterson for interesting crime/thrillers.
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By Pamela Stone on July 28 2000
Format: Hardcover
California Fire and Life Don Winslow Knopf 1999 ISBN 0676549705 H.C. Mystery
I had never heard of Don Winslow before I was sent this book to review, now he is a favorite.
Jack Wade an arson adjuster for California Fire and Life Mutual, understands fires, its the people that he doesn't understand. Wade is a very engaging character, who really knows what he is doing. Jack must investigate a fire that he knows is arson, but others believe is accidental, his own company starts to pressure him to settle the case, but he cant and he breaks his own cardinal rule, "You don't get emotional and what ever you do don't get involved. As Jack gets further and further involved the situation becomes more dangerous. Soon arson is the least of Jacks worry, as the case grows to involve the Russian mob and Vietnamese gangs and much more. This book is a wild ride through the world of fire and insurance. The characters are cool and real life. I especially liked the details of the fire investagationing.
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Format: Hardcover
I had never heard of Don Winslow before I picked up this book at the bookstore (prior to my first-ever internet order), but I am now a devoted fan. Unlike some of the people who reviewed this book, I wondered during the first 3 pages whether I would like the book because I didn't understand the significance of the first few chapters, but I kept reading and am VERY glad I did. I have loaned it to a coworker (who loved it as much as I did) and to 2 family members so far (both of whom stayed up all night reading it - one of whom RARELY does without her sleep!) and am recommending it to anyone I know who likes mystery/thrillers. I am even ordering another hardback copy through AMAZON.COM so that I can have a copy to loan to others. Some may balk at the language used with regard to the main character (in fact it seems that "Colorado" was unable to get past it in order to enjoy the book), but unless you are unusually sensitive it shouldn't matter as it really took me into the character's head (my coworker, in fact, had warned me that she didn't like "bad language" but reported that it didn't affect her enjoyment of the book). Midway through the book, I realized that I didn't want it to end....I just wanted to keep reading and reading. Immediately after reaching the thrilling conclusion, I read it again; then I ordered his first book, "Life and Death of Bobby Z," which I have not yet read but my coworker borrowed it and didn't enjoy it as much as "California Fire & Life." Like the reader from Phoenix, I cannot IMAGINE this book in audio form, but the printed book provides a "must read" which will keep you up all night! I am giving at least 2 copies as Christmas presents. Like "furiousmail," I never thought arson investigation could be so interesting...I cannot WAIT for Mr. Winslow's next book!!!!!
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Format: Hardcover
The first smashing three pages of "California Fire and Life" set the tone of the book and launch action that never flags. Jack Ward is a claims investigator for the firm of the title, and is called to examine the case of a very pricey fire in which a woman died. Nothing rings true to him about this claim, which his old adversary "Accidently Bentley" has ruled to be-that's right - accidental. The whole setup is fishy, and the fire scenario frankly phony, but why is Jack headed off at every turn, even by his own company? Maybe he's wrong. Maybe the Russian mafia un-broken-up husband is telling the truth. Maybe all those witnesses who have now disappeared really are on vacation. By the time author Don Winslow is finished, not only are the Russians involved, so are the Vietnamese, land developers, bikers, surfers, a parrot, and an elderly lady with a missing set of spoons. Everything pays off in this book and pays off in just about the least expected way. Winslow, creates characters we enjoy and care about, and struts an unusual and quirky literary voice You'll learn a lot abut fire in this book, the kind of stuff only a former fire investigator like Winslow could flash convincingly. A smart read so cool it's hot.
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