Book Review: Fires by Tom Ward

Fires CoverAbout the Book

There’s a fire on the horizon.

For Guy, a fireman, it means the death of his wife and daughter. For 19-year-old Nathan and Alexa it means a chance to fight back against austerity and abandonment. While the teenagers turn to arson, Guy searches for meaning behind his family’s deaths, battling corruption and a lost underclass, intent on fiery revolution.

For all three, their actions will lead them to the precipice of disaster.

Format: eBook,  paperback (263 pp.)   Publisher: Crooked Cat Books
Published: 2nd November 2017              Genre: Fiction

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My Review

From its dramatic and shocking first chapter, I was drawn into the story related in Fires, which is both thriller and exploration of the consequences of disaffection and social inequality.

The What Cathy Read Next intertextual radar is always on standby and the fact that the main character in Fires is called Guy and is a fireman naturally made me think of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 whose protagonist is Guy Montag. Indeed, in Fires, Guy’s wife, Eve, remarks “You reek of smoke…It’s coming from inside of you” echoing the scene in Fahrenheit 451 where Guy Montag is recognised because he smells of kerosene.

In Fahrenheit 451 the role of fireman is subverted to be a starter of fires not a quencher of them but its famous opening line “It was a pleasure to burn” very neatly sums up the excitement and feeling of power experienced by Nathan and his arsonist friends in Fires’ other story line. In every other respect, they are powerless.  Unemployment, the threat of unemployment, poor housing and low wages has created disaffection and anger.  For Nathan, fire is an obsession, a means to strike back and an energising force that contrasts with what he sees as his dead-end life.

Raging in its glory, the fire captivated him. Here was life, movement, a spark of energy rippling through the flat night air. Rubbing his thumb back and forth over the cold metal lighter, Nathan pictured the whole city burning, raised to the ground by an underclass of the discontented, waiting for a chance to take their lives into their own hands, dark figures rising in the night to mark their claim on the city.’

The industrial landscape described in the novel is clearly contemporary but at times has a post-apocalyptic feel to it with its abandoned community buildings, boarded up houses and deserted retail parks.  I felt the author was particularly good at capturing the atmosphere of the rundown areas of the city.

‘The light in the greasy cafe on the edge of the estate was dim and every surface was sticky, retaining the memory of distant meals. The clientele was mainly old men in dark Harringtons and bomber jackets, sipping cups of tea as they stared out of dusty windows.’

‘The hotel stood alone and abandoned on the main road into the city…Its four stories of windows had once been boarded up but the rain had long since rotted the wood and now the windows stared out over the empty dual carriageway, awaiting guests that were never coming.’

Presiding over everything is the huge steelworks that is the main source of employment in the city.

‘As the first stars bloomed then faded in the approach of night, Nathan turned towards the steelworks with the black curve of the river behind it. He watched the chimneys belching balls of flame and the orange glare of the blast furnaces.’

In Fires, power and money corrupt and those who possess power will go to great lengths to protect it. It is down to individuals, like Guy, to stand up to them, to reveal the truth and mete out justice. Fires is both compelling thriller and powerful indictment of the consequences of disaffection and deprivation within our society.

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of the author in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Dramatic, thought-provoking, powerful

Try something similar…Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

TomWardAbout the Author

Tom Ward is an author and freelance journalist. He has written for Esquire, Men’s Health, GQ, the Guardian and more, and won the PPA New Consumer Magazine Journalist of the Year Award 2017. He is also the recipient of the GQ Norman Mailer Award 2012. His first novel, A Departure, was shortlisted for the People’s Book Prize and the Beryl Bainbridge Award. His short story collection, Dead Dogs And Splintered Hearts is available now. His second novel, Fires, will be released on November 2nd, 2017. Tom has been described as ‘Quite possibly the best young writer in the country’ by best-selling author Tony Parsons. Tom lives in London.

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