Crucible of Fire by Mel Odom (47North, 2013)
Crucible of Fire, the 19th episode in the Dead Man series by Mel Odom, shows the series still has plenty of power left in it. Odom is a professional writer of the highest caliber who teaches writing at the University of Oklahoma. He’s adapted countless video games and TV series for novelization.
In this episode, Matt Cahill and his trusty ax have traveled to Oregon in search of the evil specter Mr. Dark. But Mr. Dark has laid a trap for Matt: an arsonist by the name of “Gorgon” who is a pyromaniac. Ridiculed by the kids at school for a facial disfigurement, Gorgon has managed to build his own flame thrower. When he finds his grandfather’s silver fireproof proximity suit, the young firebug decides to spend his weekends immolating anything in his path. All it takes is for Mr. Dark to appear to him in the form of a ranger in clown face to start a major forest fire.
Matt is sent in at the beginning of the book as a smoke jumper to help with the fire control. Working in a lumber yard, he’s recruited by the yard owner to stop the raging blaze. There’s a lot of information here about forest fire fighting and I give Odom bonus points for doing his research. You can’t read this novelette without feeling the heat of the flames.
“A burning branch lay across a dead man and the stench of burning flesh and cooking fat was almost enough to make him puke. The old guy under the branch was burned black in places, and blood boiled and sizzled where the flames licked at him like an old dog working a bone.”
Once dropped into the zone, with his employer and the other firefighters, Matt has a vision of two of his team filled with corruption. Once again, the powers he has acquired since being buried in an avalanche give him the ability to see the evil in people. Now he has to fight a forest fire, keep watch for a crazed arsonist, and be ready to kill his own team members.
I read this book straight through, dozing off several times, then waking myself up to finish it. Which is the highest praise I can give any work of fiction. It’s not perfect by any means, there are two children Matt rescues which we never do see after he takes them out of the danger zone. But the author does a great job giving you characters that are real.
This is isn’t the best one of the series, but it comes mighty close.
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