Rowan Tripp’s life hasn’t always been easy. Abandoned by her mother as a child, she was raised by her loving father and grandparents. Though they love her immensely, she still carries the scars of her young years.
Now as an adult she works as a smoke jumper. Smoke jumpers are wild land fire-fighters who jump out of aeroplanes with jumpsuits to combat remote fires. She is part of the Zulies, a smoke jumping unit in Missoula, Montana.
Rowan is very close to her father, Lucas “Iron Man” Tripp. He is a retired smoke jumper – famous from his days in the unit. He now runs a sky diving business a few miles from the Zulies base. When Lucas starts up a relationship with Ella, a high school principle, Rowan has conflicted feelings about his change of relationship status.
Rowan has some romantic changes in her life as well. Gulliver Curry, rookie smoke jumper and former hotshot fire-fighter, starts his career up as a smoke jumper by becoming known as a fast footed runner. She initially tells him she is not interested in a relationship with a fellow smoke jumper, but bends her rule later in the book to accommodate her growing attachment to him.
One of the Zulies, Jim Brayner, died on a jump during the last season. His supposed girlfriend, Dolly Brakeman, holds Rowan responsible, as she was Jim’s jumping partner that day. Dolly was fired from base after she attacked Rowan with a knife, but is allowed back after it becomes known that she gave birth to Jim’s baby. Many people, including Marge, the head cook, Michael Little Bear, the manager, and Rowan, believe that the father could be anyone, since Dolly was known to sleep with everyone she could. Dolly is caught throwing pig’s blood over Rowan’s living quarters, and not even her pastor, Reverend Latterly, can save her job now.
When the base’s stock room gets vandalised, Dolly is prime suspect. She denies the accusation, even threatening libel action.
During a fire fight mission, Rowan finds a body in the woods. She reports this, and the body is identified as Dolly. Rowan becomes a suspect, but she has an alibi – she spent the night with Gull. Since men are not indisposed to lie for sex, the cops cannot fully acquit Rowan of suspicion. Dolly’s father, Leo, takes Rowan on outside the base, blaming her for the death of his daughter.
Rowan and Gull are shot upon at the base. The gun used for the shooting is found, and Leo Brakeman is arrested, since it belongs to him. He breaks his bail, and disappears into the woods.
Meanwhile, another body has been found in a burning forest. This time the victim is Reverend Latterly, or rather, Dolly’s secret lover. Leo Brakeman is still the lead suspect, now in the vandalism, murders and shooting, but Gull and Rowan realise that all the crimes points toward a totally different character type than Leo.
In the end, the killer reveals himself. Matt Brayner, the grieving brother, blames himself for the death of his brother Jim. Before Jim’s last jump, Matt confessed to sleeping with Dolly as well, making him a candidate for the paternity of Dolly’s baby. Wrecked with guilt and anger, he kills Dolly and Latterly because of their affair, and attacks the base as he feels them all responsible.
On the last fire mission in the book, Yangree, a smoke jumper who is close to retirement nearly dies from a fall when his parachute malfunctions. Gull notices Matt is the only person who cannot look at Yangtree while he is medevac’d out. Matt sets out to kill Rowan and Gull, injuring another jumper, Cards, and he burns to death.
Nora Roberts is one of the most prolific romantic suspense writers of our time. She smoothly shifted from Mills and Boon type books, into this becoming an accredited writer. Her books are always well researched, evident in the little facts she drops into the characters experiences and conversations. She has the talent most good writers have – to pull you into the book, isolate you from the world, and have you suspect every single character.
The book is really well written, and the romance is at an acceptable level where anything less or more would have either been boring or tacky, alternatively.
I would recommend this as a book to read if you enjoy crime, romance, suspense and action all rolled into one.