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Firewatching by Russ Thomas

Firewatching had three things to recommend it before I’d reached page one. First: it’s a murder mystery set in a bucolic English village, and I’m a devout Anglophile. Second: an intriguing title and cover. Third: great jacket copy. However, most importantly it was recommended to me by Sally Woods at Murder by the Book in Houston. It’s wonderful to have a knowledgeable and friendly independent bookseller who knows my favorite authors and can identify debuts that she knows I’ll like. And, as usual, she was right. Firewatching is the first novel in a new series by Russ Thomas.

In the small Derbyshire village, a skeleton is discovered by a renovation construction crew. The remains, found in the debris of a burned-out manor, were immediately assumed to be those of Gerald Cartwright, who’d disappeared from his home six years ago. At the time, villagers believed he’d done a moonlight flit to escape creditors.

Although Detective Sergeant Adam Tyler, sole representative of South Yorkshire’s Cold Case Review Unit, is hoping the discovery of Cartwright’s body will rejuvenate his floundering career, he knows those around him aren’t expecting a result.

Tyler quickly identifies a suspect: the dead man’s son, Oscar Cartwright. However, with that person of interest also comes a serious conflict of interest: Tyler had slept with Oscar the night before after being picked up by him in a bar.

Tyler is joined on the case by Amina Rabbani, an ambitious young Muslim constable and fellow outsider also trying to prove herself. They’re faced with a village used to keeping its own secrets and intent on doing so.

When a spate of fires are set across the community–endangering both Tyler and Rabbani–fire investigator Paul Enfield is never far from each scene when he’s needed. While Tyler quells his interest in the tall, handsome fire investigator, the detective struggles to put his doubts about the man aside.

Two elderly village women know plenty about what happened all those years ago, but they’re not talking. One because she won’t, and the other because she can’t–dementia has cruelly siphoned her memories. However, as she begins receiving threatening notes taunting that someone knows what she did–she struggles to find clarity in the fog, all the while frightened what she’ll discover.

Oscar, raised by the old women, is proving to be a chameleon and a challenge for Tyler to read. One minutes he’s coy, shy, and manipulative. Next, he’s arrogant, troubled, and angry. Tyler begins to wonder if Oscar had known who he was when they’d met in the bar.

As assaults, murder, arsons, and questions increase, someone known only as The Fire Watcher is playing puppet master. Will Tyler be too distracted to recognize that danger is coming from where he least expects it?

We next see Detective Sergeant Adam Tyler in February 2021 when Russ Thomas’ second book, Night Hawking launches. To find out more about this new talent, go to and follow him on social media.


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