Top critical review
THE PROTAGONISTS ARE HOT ON THE TRAIL OF AN ARSONIST
on July 5, 2004
Some call it "mind reading," others perceive it as "psychic ability" or extrasensory perception. Iris Johansen doesn't give it a particular label, but, in her new book, FIRESTORM, the main characters have extraordinary sensibilities that allow them to do things ordinary men and women can't even dream of. When Kerry Murphy, was eight years old she emerged from two years in a coma. She had been hit on the head by the arsonist who torched her house and killed her mother. When she woke up, she "had a special psychic talent triggered by fire. If [she came] anywhere near the area of a fire ... [she] received vibes; sometimes [she could] actually see it being done." As an adult she started her career as a firefighter but the pain her visions imposed upon her forced her to quietly use her talent in a different way. She became an arson investigator with an amazingly accurate record.
Kerry Murphy is good at her job. But because she works with a canine "fire-sniffer" named Sam, and she gives him all the credit for her success rate in identifying arsons. Sam is a dopey looking gangly animal and "as an arson dog he's a complete washout." Kerry wants "everyone to believe [that Sam has the best nose] in the southeast. [She] didn't want [anyone] to know the truth; that the only way [she] knew where and how the fires were being set was [because she] saw it being done." Sometimes, she even felt the blistering heat on the skin and the smoke choking her lungs.
One day, Brad Silver barges into her life, and forever things change for them both. He had been comatose as a result of a serious car crash and emerged with a different kind of psychic power. He has the ability to enter the minds of others and not only read them but, if necessary, alter their thoughts for good or ill. He needs Kerry to help him find and stop "a monster that makes the man who killed [her] mother angelic in comparison." He tells Kerry that he can help her remember the face that she glimpsed that horrific night ... that their mutual therapist, Travis, had given him her name and that he knew she could help stop more deaths.
Kerry is not interested. She knows that often after a person wakes from a coma s/he has altered brain chemistry and may even be "rewired" but this information does nothing to soothe her rage or make her feel less like a whacko. After Silver makes his pitch ... "she said through her teeth, "I don't want anything to do with you ... you're a freak and you want to make me one too." In the years she had worked with Travis in an attempt to come to terms what she deeply considered an affliction, "he said [she] wasn't a freak, that the visions were telepathic, and that [she] had to learn to live with them. He said [she] wasn't alone and that there were others [with these extraordinary abilities as a result of childhood comas.] He and his wife were trying to reach out to find and help them ... because [they] went through it themselves."
But Silver realizes he has his work cut out for him if he is ever going to persuade Kerry to help him catch Trask, a truly "mad" scientist who is taking a scorched earth approach to those he perceives as his enemies. The project he had been working on for the government was shut down because the technology was so dangerous that it would be better for the United States not to develop it in order to keep it out of the hands of rogue nations. But, Trask has already sold his "baby" to the North Koreans and is perfecting it by using it to burn his nemeses to death. If their families or innocent people get in the way, tough!
FIRESTORM is a romantic tale of suspense whose plot is simple and linear which makes it very one-dimensional. The characters are never really fleshed out; their dialog is pedestrian and banal; and the story itself is riddled with soft spots ... too many to give much substance to what could have been a really suspenseful book. Iris Johansen is very popular and prolific writer. She has at least twenty-two previous novels in print all over the world ... thus one can only hope in her next endeavor she gives her readers a richer story populated with multi-dimensional characters.