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California Fire and Life


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Jack Wade is "basically a Dalmatian": when a fire happens he's there. Jack, who works to live and lives to surf, was a sheriff's department fire investigator until he got caught planting evidence in a warehouse arson to protect a witness, and is now the top claims adjuster for California Fire and Life. That means sifting around in the ashes of other people's livesÄor in this case, deaths. When Pamela Vale passes out drunk and accidentally burns down the west wing of her Dana Point mansion, along with half a million dollars of her husband's antique furniture, Jack thinks maybe it wasn't an accident. There's no smoke in her lungs, and the smoke from the fire should have been yellow or orange, not the reported blood red, plus the dog was outside. "People will never burn the pooch," Jack knows, and he begins to search through the remains. Winslow (The Death and Life of Bobby Z), who himself worked more than 15 years with L.A. arson investigators, follows Jack through the burned char of the Vale house, where, in the novel's most compelling scene, he tracks down the history of the fire and reads its secrets. Pitted against him is a formidable adversary: Pamela's estranged husband, Daziatnik Valeshin, now known as Nicky Vale, who has survived a Russian prison camp to make himself over into the model of a perfect Southern California gentleman. Jack's investigation is packed with extrasÄRussian organized crime, faked freeway accidents, a $50 million insurance scam. But Southern California is captured perfectly in all its hyperbolic splendor, its overdeveloped beachfronts, its sudden, mysterious blazes and freeway chills. If the plot contains a few too many contrivances and coincidences, Winslow's knowledge of his subject and his territory, and the narrative's rapid pace, keep the entertainment value at steady flame. 60,000 first printing; simultaneous Random House audio. (July) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Winslow's latest novel is a complex tale of murder and insurance fraud that keeps the reader alert and guessing right to the end. Jack Wade is working as an insurance adjuster specializing in fire investigation when he stumbles into a huge insurance scam involving the Russian Mafia and what seems like half the state of California. Writing in a gritty shorthand style that perfectly evokes the hard-nosed and dogged detective, Winslow carefully and painstakingly educates the reader about the life and characteristics of fireÄboth accidental and intentionally set. Amazingly, he does this in a way that isn't the least bit dry or dull by giving the fire its own personality. Winslow is the author of several Neal Carey mysteries as well as The Life and Death of Bobby Z. (LJ 4/1/97). This latest thriller won't disappoint. Recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/99.]ÄCaroline Mann, Univ. of Portland Lib., OR Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

-Jack Wade is one of the best arson investigators in Orange County. While trying to convict an arsonist as well as protect the life of an informant, he bends the rules till they shatter. He roughs up the suspect, extracts an illegal confession, and then lies under oath during the trial. His partner admits the truth and Jack is out of a job, a reputation, and a relationship. Twelve years later, readers find him working for the California Fire and Life Mutual Insurance Company while spending the rest of his time surfing. A fire that results in the death of the beautiful young wife of real-estate kingpin Nicky Vale and a three-million dollar insurance claim needs to be investigated before the insurance company will pay. The sheriff's department and Jack's old partner have already ruled it an accident. Pamela Vale apparently had a drinking problem, was smoking in bed, and set herself ablaze. Except Jack learns that there was no smoke in her lungs-how could she have died in the fire without inhaling any? His investigation takes him into the brutal workings of the Russian mafia, of which Nicky Vale is a powerful member. What will intrigue young adults, beyond the interesting narrative, is the compelling story of fire told through Jack's sardonic voice and witticisms. His character is well drawn, likable, and suffers the consequences of his all-to-human errors. An entertaining and fast-paced read that will capture YA mystery fans.-Carol DeAngelo, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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