Saturday, May 12, 2018


By Solange Ritchie

Stony Hill     2018
264 pages     Thriller

Dr. Catherine Powers is a forensic pathologist for the FBI. In the first book of Ritchie’s series, The Burning Man, Cat has a life-altering experience when her son is kidnapped and she is injured by a serial killer named Eric. As Firestorm begins, Eric has sent Cat a lock of her son’s hair to remind her that he is still around, still killing. And he’s looking for her.

Eric is a serial killer, specializing in young women. He has a partner—in crime and in life—David, who specializes in starting fires in the windy, dry California hills. Eric is an emergency room physician and David is a firefighter. They met when David brought in a wildfire victim to the hospital. There was an instantaneous connection, and they knew they were kindred spirits. The reader knows the inner workings of their brains, because they are explained as a stream of consciousness as the two psychopaths go about their business of death and destruction.

Cat is called in on the case when they find several dead women apparently killed by Eric. Authorities know Eric is the perp because he carves EriC on the bellies of his victims. Cat leaves her young son with neighbors and heads to California. She and her partner McGregor set about finding Eric and destroying him. At the same time that they are finding Eric, David is causing havoc all over the region starting wildfires that are truly firestorms. When Eric is found and killed, David believes that Eric has entered his body, and as David/Eric, he continues to seeks revenge on Cat and McGregor.

The plot moves as quickly as the fires David starts; these are evil men, and their menace makes for compelling reading. We struggle to fit ourselves into their brains and understand how these manic brains motivate their destructive natures. Although the plot is bloody, gory, and sexual, it is compelling and engrossing. I kept reading, hoping that these horrible men would come to a horrible end.

Cat is a compelling character. She is the consummate professional, a woman in what is traditionally a man’s profession. She relies on her drive and her intuition to lead her to these psychopaths. We are privy to some of her inner feelings and thoughts, but I am not sure that we are led to understand why she is motivated to seek these men at the expense of her child. She is seeking justice as much as Eric and David seek revenge. She feels for the dead women in an almost visceral way, blacking out when the emotion of it all gets to be too much for her. She misses her son horribly, but feels compelled to solve the case before she returns home. She is admirable in the way that she asserts her authority and stands up to her male counterparts. Her thoughts: “She is at the top of her game with the FBI, respected and admired by her colleagues, people she has worked hard to impress. She works hard for herself too. Always the overachiever. Always having to outshine everyone. That is just her way. It is how she has always been.”

I’m not a big fan, however, of Ritchie’s writing style. It is minimalist to the extreme and relies on very short sentences, few extraneous details, and questions. Lots and lots of questions. To her credit, this minimalist style moves the plot forward at a fever pitch, but it leaves the reader oddly dissatisfied. There is a lot of repetition of phrases, in both the thoughts of the killers, but also in the phrases Cat uses as she moves through the case. For example, “Eric and David are deranged psychopaths,” appears over and over in the text. If you stop reading for plot, for even a moment, you say, “Wait, I just read that a page ago.”

In an interview, Ritchie addressed her minimalist style. She says, “I also write in a somewhat linear style, and I often use the same phrase over and over in a chapter. This is for emphasis. As a lawyer, I understand the value of white space on a page and the importance of having a catch phrase that repeats in the reader’s mind.

There seem to be a lot of books currently available about psychopathic and serial killers. Add Firestorm to the list. It comes out Tuesday, May 15. I received an advanced copy from the publicist.

Solange Ritchie website.

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