Ballantine, Apr 2000, 24.95, 400 pp.
In Seattle, veteran firefighters John Finney and Bill Cordifies are searching for trapped people inside a nasty fire at Leary Way when a wall collapses. Bill is pinned under a segment of the wall so John goes after help. He finds Fire Chief Charlie Reese and firefighter Robert Kub. They follow John's directions, but return empty-handed. Afterward, Charlie tells the press that John panicked and said zilch to him about deserting his partner leaving him behind to die.
John is ostracized by just about everyone while Charlie is a hero. Every day for the next several months, John goes over what happened in that inferno and what he could have done differently. He concludes he did nothing wrong, and that the odious Charlie used the chaos at the scene to further his own career perhaps at the cost of Bill's life. Unless he can break Robert, John knows his chances of proof are slim while the odds of his remaining a pariah to his peers are a sure thing.
When VERTICAL BURN follows John and Bill into the fire and its aftermath on the former, the novel is one of the best firefighting thrillers in several years. However, a well-written subplot involving a conspiracy slows down the insightful prime theme. Still John is a hero struggling with vindication for his character reminding the audience of a merging of the two brothers in the movie Turk 186. Earl Emerson is the duke of this sub-genre and his latest thriller proves how regal a writer he is.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner