Spontaneous Combustion is a decent, if unexceptional start to the Code Red continuity series.
When a warehouse fire breaks out in Courage Bay, California, firefighter Shannon O’Shea and her crew race to the scene. Inside the building, she finds a dog trapped beneath a fallen beam. She rescues it, only to find herself trapped behind a wall of flames. Help comes from an unexpected source. Another firefighter emerges to save her, but it’s no one she knows. This man is wearing an expensive silver suit normally used only by those dealing with chemical fires, fires that generate far more heat than normal ones. His face hidden behind his mask, he leads her and the dog to safety, then disappears before she can learn his identity.
A short time later, a new firefighter arrives from New York to fill an opening in the department. There’s something about John Forrester that’s very familiar. It’s not until the rescued dog greets him like an old friend that Shannon realizes the reason why. Forrester has the same height and shape as her mysterious rescuer. He denies that it was him and claims he wasn’t even in town when the fire occurred. But Shannon can’t fight her suspicions, which aren’t made any easier by her sudden attraction for the man.
The book is competently executed, as the author does her best to make the most of her 243 pages. She tries to give a sense of the community, showing many of Shannon’s friends, family members and colleagues who may be expected to have stories of their own. It’s done so in an unobtrusive way. It doesn’t feel the usual first book in a series where a multitude of characters are being introduced. The heroine’s connections to so many people in the community make it more natural that we’d see these people.
This is an easy read. The book is well-written. But there’s also something a little mechanical about it that kept me from becoming too involved in the proceedings. It seems to be going through the motions. The romance is reasonably developed, but nothing that special or affecting. The suspense plot is less developed, and not particularly interesting.
As is the case with so many books, this one isn’t anywhere near as exciting or dramatic as the cover makes it out to be. The plot progresses slowly. There’s not much action. After the initial fire, it actually takes Forrester a while to reappear on the scene. In the meantime, Shannon talks to her fellow firefighters. She talks to her family. She talks to a veterinarian friend and the woman renting a room in her house. She gets interviewed for a magazine. It lays the foundation for the community, but it’s also fairly slow and dull. There are a few mildly interesting subplots that don’t amount to enough to make much of an impact. The romance and gradual emergence of John’s secrets follow a predictable path. There’s a long section where the firefighters handle a series of wacky calls (Loud, fat, cursing woman gets stuck in tree while trying to save her cat! Man’s penis is chained to the steering wheel of his car!) that seems like filler. Other than the opening and climactic sequences, there’s not much here in the way of excitement.
It wouldn’t be as boring if the main characters were compelling. They’re nice enough, but not particularly engaging. They suffer from a lack of dimension. They were all right, but never really came to life as flesh-and-blood people. It’s nice to see a story about a six-foot-tall female firefighter, so Shannon is at least somewhat interesting to read about. John isn’t.
Spontaneous Combustion is an acceptable way to ease into this series. It’s not bad. It’s just blah, an average read and not much more. Here’s hoping there are more intriguing characters and storylines coming in future books.