- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 7, 2002

Someone who should have known better must have wanted to make sure Kelly Lange didn't sell too many of The Reporter (Mysterious Press, $24.95, 309 pages), the debut of the lively, likable Maxi Poole, news hen. The book's cover is an unappetizing shade of green that produces ennui and aversion (it probably looked better on the computer screen), and the title is a yawn.
Do make an effort to get past these handicaps and make Maxi's acquaintance, because she delights in her debut. Maxi is covering her ex-husband's funeral in a scene that is so over the top it cannot fail to amuse. But Maxi is less than amused when Wife No. 1, another member of the sleazeball's ex-wives' club, is arrested for his murder.
There is no lack of suspects and no lack of motives because Jack Nathanson was Not A Nice Man. For the sake the woman who shares this life link, Maxi must solve the crime. Actually, Wife No. 1, a knockout with a wicked sense of humor, is by herself worth the price of admission. Miss Lange, a former television reporter with other books to her credit, delights with lively characters in humorous but dangerous situations and a plot as well crafted as a Swiss watch. Treat yourself.

Manda Scott's debut thriller, No Good Deed (Bantam, $22.95, 304 pages), has the truth and honesty and pain of a cut made with a well honed blade.
The location is Glasgow not too long ago and Detective Inspector Orla McLeod is in the middle of a sting operation gone very, very bad. One undercover agent is already dead, from a bullet that ended three hours of torture.
Orla survives with the help of a badly traumatized little boy whom she promises heart and soul to protect. It is a promise that could cost her her life, and possibly that soul she put up as collateral.
Very quickly it becomes evident that the bad guy has an inside source, and the number of people Orla can trust shrinks just as quickly.
Under the circumstances it would be extremely dangerous for Orla to go back undercover but that's where the answers are.
A telling confrontation ends the novel, which is a tribute and testimony to the skill of this extremely talented author. Even the minor characters are well drawn and believable, and the plot is convoluted and holds the reader's interest from the first page.
The mountain country of Scotland's coast is so well crafted that it becomes a character in itself. Readers will be hoping for a return of Orla and little Jamie Buchanan, the child so young and so brave against his own pain and fear.

Suzanne Chazin fulfills the promise of her debut with Flashover (Putnam, $25.95, 332 pages), another look at the dangerous world of firefighting. This time around, N.Y. Fire Marshall Georgia Skeehan is investigating fire deaths. Two sober, physically fit persons have died in fires that show signs of being "flashovers," events where an entire room and all its contents reach ignition at the same time.
The two shared a connection: They served on a board that determined firefighters' eligibility for disability pensions and they were hard folks to convince. Is someone claiming a price for their indifference to human suffering?
When Georgia gets close to her prey, she has reason to regret her skillful stalking. Along the way, Georgia finds that it is impossible to bring a bureaucracy to its knees, but sometimes you can get one to bend if you find exactly the right place to push.
Mrs. Chazin fascinates with her wealth of technical details and her insight into the human heart and its reasons.
Read the book for its technical wealth or read the book for her depiction of fascinating people, but read the book.

Several weeks ago the wire services ran an article about the rising death rate among firefighters. The specialists in the firefighting industry cited better equipment and better tactics and could not explain why with all this technology the numbers were still heading up.
Take a hint, guys, and read Earl Emerson's latest, Vertical Burn (Ballantine, $24.95, 340 pages). According to the author, the equipment itself is presenting hazards, allowing firefighters to go deeper into more intense blazes, sometimes to the point of cooking themselves.
Mr. Emerson plowed the field of firefighting investigators and he does not disappoint with this latest. With all the modern firefighting doodads, Finney and his partner walked into the flames but only Finney walked out, seriously overheated, dehydrated and incoherent.
Was he hallucinating, or had he told a rescue team where to find his partner, trapped under a fallen beam?
Finney finds himself an outcast, branded as someone who panicked under pressure, someone who left a partner to die. The worst is, he wonders if they are right.
Or did someone need his partner dead?
Mr. Emerson and Mrs. Chazin's books make an interesting pair, exploring as they do the physics of fire, the mechanics of firefighting and the bureaucracies that sometimes seem to be working not so much for public safety as for self-preservation. These are intelligent books, loaded with easily absorbed information, tightly plotted and very enlightening. Read them and your view of the world will be enhanced.

Judith Kreiner is an editor at The Washington Times.



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