Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts
April 12, 2011
Her distinctive writing style always gives me a vivid mental image of the places, events, and people that are at the heart of any Nora Roberts book. In Chasing Fire, Nora takes us to the heat of battle where fire fighters jump from airplanes into wild land areas that are currently on fire. Never knowing when the alarm might sound, they live together during fire season on a base where good food and camaraderie are the order of the day – when they’re not loading up into airplanes and parachuting into fires, that is!
In the opening pages we are shown a horrific accident – one fire fighter not focused that makes fatal errors jumping from the plane into a fire. Our heroine was his jumping partner, and still suffers nightmares and still wonders if there’s anything she could have done differently to help him, as well as wondering what had him so preoccupied that day.
Our girl Rowan Tripp (aka heroine of tale) is a second generation Zulie – aka Missoula smoke jumper. Just under six feet tall, blond hair, blue eyes and at her fitness prime – Rowan is a pretty face as well as a kick ass fire fighter. She was one of the strongest, most believable female characters I’ve read in a long while. It takes grit, determination, not to mention a passion and skill for the work to make it in firefighting – and it was clear that this is where Rowan’s heart is at. Her father is a local Zulie legend, yet that doesn’t color her firefighting. She is great at what she does because she works her ass off, trains, and does all she can to be the best. She doesn’t go around wanting to be as good as daddy or win his approval – she’s got it. They’re a tight family unit, and he proudly watches her from the sidelines now that he’s got his own business and is out of the smoke jumping profession.
Her one rule is that she never sleeps with other smoke jumpers. Mixing work and sex doesn’t work out for people – and she’s never truly been tempted. That is, until Gulliver Curry (“Gull”) the hunky rookie catches her eye, and gets her thinking about breaking her own rules. At just over six feet and with dark hair he’s Mr. tall dark and handsome firefighter – but he’s more too. He likes to research things, making spreadsheets and manages his own business in the off-season. He’s had experience fire fighting (just not as a smoke jumper) so he’s got skills and knowledge. Not only is he smart and handsome – but he’s a nice guy too, and one who isn’t afraid of a strong woman. No, he admires and wants Rowan because she is exactly who she is – he never even thinks about changing her instead as their relationship grows he’s proud to be with such an outstanding female.
Early on in the book, there is a great bar scene where they’re all out celebrating a new season beginning by dancing, drinking beers, and eventually doing shots of tequila. At one point, a crotch grabbing drunk decides to offer cash to Rowan to go out back with him – he’ll even buy her a drink. Her response is to pour his pitcher of beer over him and tell him what she really thinks about that:
The man moved pretty quick for a sputtering drunk. He shoved Rowan back against the bar, grabbed her breasts and squeezed.
And she moved faster. Before Gull was halfway across the room she slammed her boot on the man’s instep, her knee into the crotch he’d been so proud of, then knocked him on his ass with an uppercut as fine as Gull had ever seen when the drunk doubled over.
She back-fisted one of his buddies who’d been foolish enough to try and yank her around. She grabbed his arm, dragged him forward, past her. The boot she planted on his ass sent him careening into his friend as the man started to struggle to his feet.
She whipped around to man number three. “You want to try for me?”
“No.” This one held up his hands in a don’t –shoot-me gesture. “No, ma’am, I don’t.”
“Maybe you’ve got half a brain. Use it and get your idiot friends out of here before I get mad. Because when I get mad, I just get crazy.”
She does indeed kick lots of butt, however Rowan isn’t perfect – she has trust issues and since her mom abandoned her as a young child and it’s just been her and her father all these years it’s not instantly easy for her to let new people in. I really liked the secondary romance of her father (aka Iron Man Tripp) and his lady love – and how that affected Rowan and her relationship as well.
As far as the plot of the book – it’s really “the fire season after Jim died”. Everyone is affected by that awful accident that happened the summer before, and Jim’s own brother has returned to fight fire once again as well as the cook who claims to have had Jim’s baby during the off season. This is where the suspense portion and bulk of the plot really take place.
It’s not all fun and blisters as the weather warms up and the fire season gets underway for the Zulies. Not only does Dolly the slutty cook come back with a baby claiming that it’s Jim’s baby, but she also claims that it’s clearly Rowan’s fault for Jim’s accident. Being that Jim steered himself to his own death, and there’s nothing anyone could have done it well and truly is crazy that she places any blame – but then again I suppose grief can be a crazy thing and it doesn’t take long for a whole lot of crazy to get going.
Arson and murder, incidents from sabotaged equipment, and even being shot at has the local authorities and these firefighters working hard to piece it all together. As I write this it sounds intriguing and suspenseful – but it really wasn’t. Even when suspects disappear or the authorities are hassling Rowan about being a suspect – nothing ever has that urgent nail biting suspense that should have been present.
Mostly what we have here is a book that felt at times like a how-to book on being a smoke jumper. The book was simply to strung out and not tight enough to keep it intense and exciting. I’m no stranger to long books – in fact I’m a fan! However when I’m reading something that is over 450 pages long like this it had better be jam packed with action, interesting detail, plot twists, and keep me on the edge of my seat.
The bottom line is that the plot didn’t work for me. Not only was the “bad guy” the person I guessed it would be within the first twenty pages, but his logic and reasoning, the fact that nobody guessed or suspected seemed totally unbelievable to me. I can work with a weak suspense plot if the romance is the main draw in a book – but while the characters were great they didn’t have much to do outside (you guessed it) jumping into fires and then resting and prepping for the next one back at base.
When Rowan and Gull finally make the jump into a relationship – it’s great. They come back from a fire and Gull can’t take the tension anymore, and he snaps. Filthy from the fire, exhausted, and in need of both food and shower he grabs onto Rowan as she enters her room.
“Whatever we’ve got going here, we need to hit it head-on. If it’s just a flash, fine, we’ll take it down and move on. No harm, no foul. But I’m damned if I’m going to keep slapping away at the spot fires. You’re in or you’re out. Now how do you want to play it?”
Even though Rowan wants it to just be about hot sex – between working together and getting to know each other they quickly grow to care and mean a lot to one another. Speaking of the bedroom (or, more often with these smoke and grime covered fire fighters, the shower) – that is the one area that the author is not detailed in. The scenes are short, the language isn’t in explicit territory, and if it were a movie it could definitely be R rated (no “X” stuff here).
The real detail and focus is left for the fighting of wild land fires. It’s clear the author did her research on smoke jumpers. Being married to a fireman (the regular kind, though he has worked in wild land fire as well) I have hung out in a lot of fire houses, and the language, tone, and general attitude of these characters fit what I know and have experienced myself.
So where does that leave this book overall for me? I do love Nora Roberts and her way of really drawing you into a story with detailed and descriptive scenes and how she could make me feel the crackle of the fire, the smoke in the air, and you really got the sense of being there at the fire base. There was sparkling dialogue and great scenes that were memorable, and her characters were pure awesome. I felt really connected to them, and loved them by the end of the book. Had the execution been better I feel like this could have been a real favorite. Instead of drawing me in and hooking me further as a long book should, it made me anxious to just be done already. Rather than fill it with twists and interesting details, there was a whole lot of fighting fire – and that in time got to be dull as well.
The lackluster suspense combined with the drawn out, predictable plot made this a C+ read.