I’ve been looking forward to reading Firewatching for ages and boy do I wish I had read this fabulous book sooner.

DS Adam Tyler solely represents South Yorkshire Police’s Cold Case Department. When a body is found in a house at the edge of the Peak District he finds it’s linked to a cold case and he quickly becomes involved in the investigation. The title of the book refers to somebody who is setting fires and whilst this isn’t the focus of the book initially, it soon becomes clear that there may be more to it than first meets the eye.

What a protagonist Adam Tyler is. He’s a gay man struggling to survive in a toxic environment where anyone who falls into a minority group is ridiculed and bullied. And yet he’s a strong person, using his standoffishness as a defence mechanism. I really enjoyed how he strengthened relations with his colleagues as the story progressed.

The book is set in Sheffield and, as a Sheffielder I loved that. It’s always such a delight to recognise the backdrop to a story. The small village in the Peak District that features strongly was also portrayed perfectly. The sense of everybody knowing everything about you really came through and I was enthralled as everything unravelled.

At 430 pages this is not a short book but I raced through it. The plotting is superb. Russ Thomas is so skilled at building up the story without giving anything away to the extent that I was totally pulled into the unfolding events with not a clue where any of it was heading, right the way up to the denouement which elicited a “what?!” from me. I had no idea!

I suppose you could call Firewatching a police procedural. It’s mostly about the police investigations, with added input from two elderly ladies who live in the village. But where some police procedurals seem to be to be rather dull, this one is so alive with tension and intrigue it’s practically on fire (see what I did there?).

In case you hadn’t guessed, I thought this book was an absolute cracker. I couldn’t put it down and found it thoroughly engrossing. I’m now counting down to book two, Nighthawking.

Review by Nicola Smith, Short Book and Scribes

Simon & Schuster UK (15 Oct. 2020)