Fire Fighter: A Novel of War

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Autumn, 1940, and the Luftwaffe is firebombing London, a capital rendered virtually defenseless by a legacy of appeasement and governmental incompetence. Jack Finlay, a young man already notorious for his capacity to fight fires, and men, is hauled reluctantly back from his artillery unit in the Western Desert. Finlay's Liverpool past is murky but London needs him now - no questions asked - to wage an elemental battle on streets made strange by the scale of the destruction.

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2001 Hardcover Grade: B Catalog: Fiction Historical Synopsis: 234 pages. First Edition. Autumn, 1940, and the Luftwaffe is firebombing London, a capital rendered virtually ... defenseless by a legacy of appeasement a... Read more Show Less

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Overview

Autumn, 1940, and the Luftwaffe is firebombing London, a capital rendered virtually defenseless by a legacy of appeasement and governmental incompetence. Jack Finlay, a young man already notorious for his capacity to fight fires, and men, is hauled reluctantly back from his artillery unit in the Western Desert. Finlay's Liverpool past is murky but London needs him now - no questions asked - to wage an elemental battle on streets made strange by the scale of the destruction.

His task is to do all he can to prevent five buildings vital to Britain's war effort from being engulfed. But resources are scarce, the mood bleak and Finlay himself suspicious about the real motive for the mission charged him by his enigmatic Whitehall taskmaster, Captain Grey. And then Finlay falls in love with a woman as unorthodox as he is: a wartime liaison as improbable as it is intense, which makes him vulnerable.

With a cynical eye and a tender heart, this taut, tantalizing novel tracks a dangerous intelligence game, and spotlights with a rare and telling force the indiscriminate path of war and fire through ordinary lives.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Cottam's title takes on an ominous double meaning in this unusual debut, when a British firefighter gets caught up in his country's military effort to protect key potential targets during the Blitz. Whisked away from his artillery unit to a clandestine London assignment as the Nazis step up their aerial assault. Jack Finlay is able to secure his assigned buildings, but as he adjusts to the devastated environment, he finds his past put under the microscope. Meanwhile, he meets and falls in love with the beautiful Rebecca Lange, who is the German godchild of his military boss, Major Grey, and the daughter of a famous architect. Finlay is slowly drawn into Grey's murky, secretive world, and he must battle for Rebecca's attention when a brawling Irishman from her past surfaces. The riveting firefighting scenes enhance the story in the early going, but the intensity fades a bit when the focus shifts to subplots involving Rebecca as well as Grey's mysterious past. The dark, insular tone of the novel and Cottam's terse prose add to the sense of menace as the Nazis tighten their noose around London, and Finlay's anxiety increases significantly when his mother is endangered as the bombing spreads to Liverpool and he learns of his brother's death during a submarine attack. Overplotting keeps this novel from achieving its full potential, but the combination of harrowing atmosphere and compelling action scenes suggests that readers should expect good things from Cottam down the line. (Aug. 5) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
At the peak of the London blitz, Jack Finlay is summoned from the African front to join an obscure British intelligence unit. Overlooking his somewhat shady past, the group has tapped Jack for his expertise as a fearless fire fighter. His assignments are to guard five strategically located buildings in the heart of London and respond with everything he can muster should any one of them fall prey to Hitler's nightly onslaughts. His quarters are in an underground bunker, where he waits each night for a solitary phone to ring as bombs explode above him. It's a strange life, but stranger still are his brethren, one of whom Jack believes to be a German spy. But he's a novice at this intelligence game and is fearful of tipping his hand to any of his colleagues. So he tends his buildings by day and drinks whatever he can find as he waits for the phone to ring at night. Needing a bit of normalcy, he falls in love with the curator of one of his buildings, only to find that she is the daughter of its eccentric German architect. Is she also a spy? The characters are a bit thin, but this debut novel by London journalist Cottam blends a very sharp sense of the chaos of the London blitz with the tender emotions of a people trying desperately to cling to the comfortable monotony of everyday life. Another addition to the recent wave of novels (e.g., Andrew Grieg's The Clouds Above) looking back at the horror of World War II from the new millennium, it is recommended for special fiction collections on that conflict and larger fiction collections. Susan Clifford Braun, Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, CA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A British ex-firefighter gets a second chance at his old profession during the Blitz in London. Newcomer Cottam, an England-based journalist who's worked for GQ among others, takes a well-worn setting and tries to spice things up by throwing a heroic firefighter and a decent amount of skullduggery into the mix here. Brusque to the point of moroseness and definitely not one for the finer things, protagonist Jack Finlay is sweating it out with the British army in North Africa when the story opens. A directive comes down from high above ordering Jack to be removed to London, where his years of service as a courageous and somewhat famous firefighter are to be put to use battling Nazi firebombing. The journalist in Cottam knows how to get to the point and within pages Jack is in London in the midst of the Blitz, doing what he can to protect a set of strategically important buildings from Nazi incendiaries. Cottam's background also shows in the story's well-researched detail, everything from the sudless whale soap the characters unsuccessfully use to scrub the soot off themselves to the technical minutiae of firefighting. Jack himself is somewhat of a cipher, holding within him a deep-seated proletarian pride and mulish stubbornness but not much else. Even when he falls in love, there's little more to be found under his stony surface. Normally, such things would not matter overly much, as the ongoing Blitz, raging fires, and suspicious behavior of Jack's superiors should provide enough distraction. But Cottam might have set his sights just a bit too high here, trying for a seriousness and a depth of tone that the occasionally muddled storyline can't support. An exciting and punchy debutthriller with passion to spare; unfortunately, it loses its direction well before the conclusion.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312286798
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 8/5/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 10.22 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Francis Cottam was born in Southport, Merseyside, in 1957. A full-time journalist, he has lived and worked in London for the last twenty years. This is his first novel.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2002

    a searing story

    This debut novel burns with atmosphere and emotion. The horrible claustrophobia of the wartime blitz is brilliantly evoked. Its hero is hardly stereotypical - his involvement in wartime fire fighting is reluctant and his courage instinctive, almost matter of fact. But the story is a compelling page turner and you root for the guy, hope he wins his elusive love interest and learn a lot about a dark and intense period of recent history.

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