Firewatching is the first book in the Detective Sergeant Adam Tyler series written by Russ Thomas. This British police procedural is set in Sheffield (South Yorkshire) where the openly gay protagonist of the books is a member of the Cold Case Review Team. In the begining of Firewatching a body is discovered after a fire broke out during renovations of the country estate of dodgy financier Gerald Cartwright who had disappeared six years before. DS Tyler convinces his boss (and godmother!) DCI Diane Jordan to let him work the case even though it's now decidedly much more high profile than his typical cold case. When he does so, Tyler neglects to point out that he hooked up with Cartwright’s handsome 21-year-old son Oscar the night before the discovery of the body. Despite his own uncertain status on the force due to his sexual orientation and his policeman father’s suspicious death years before when he worked with DCI Jordan, DS Tyler nevertheless uses what pull he does have to get a fellow outsider, feisty Muslim Detective Constable Amina Rabbani seconded to him, and together they work with Tyler’s frenemy Detective Inspector John Doggett and the preternaturally lazy Detective Sergeant Guy Daley to try and discover how and why an unknown person sealed someone else inside the house and left them to die.
Of course, as with most mystery novels, there’s more than just one puzzle to solve and in a small village almost everyone can (and probably should) be considered a suspect. In the case of Firewatching, the fire that led to the discovery of the body is just one of several recent suspicious fire events that seem to have clear connections to Gerald Cartwright.
The strengths of Firewatching lie in the characterizations of the main characters. We get first person accounts from both DC Rabbani and DS Tyler (and often they are thinking about the other) which are both revealing and entertaining. Additionally, there are multiple subplots which are based around events that happened 20 and 40 years before, which demonstrates how the events and crimes of today are often sourced in the past. And then, of course, more bodies (and more fires) start to show up as the plot thickens and the mysteries deepen.
Eventually, DS Tyler does solve the main case of how the body got to be found in the Cartwright mansion as well as who's setting fires around Sheffield. Along the way he meets a handsome, very muscular firefighter who also happens to be Black, so in addition to the tension of “will they or won't they (have sex)” is the question of “is he or isn’t he a suspect?” As I have said before, the strength of a detective series is often in the supporting characters, and their relationship to the main character/protagonist. Here those relationships are intriguingly complex, and involve issues that are not often discussed in the British police procedural genre: homophobia/racism/xenophobia/sexism in policing, lingering effects of traumatic events from childhood, and work/life balance. If the two existing sequels, Nighthawking (2021) and Cold Reckoning (2022), are even half as well-written as Firewatching I look forward to reading them and hopefully many more after that!
Title: Firewatching (DS Adam Tyler, #1).
Author: Russ Thomas.
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's' Sons.
Date Published: February 25, 2020.
Date Read: December 19, 2022.
OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).