Considering that The Protector is a story involving Chicago firefighters and their escalating problem with a serial arsonist, I was surprised when the first word that came to mind to describe the book was pleasant. For good and ill, the book is pleasant.
This fourth entry in the O’Malley series centers on firefighter Jack O’Malley. He’s dealing with an arsonist whose fire setting is escalating and seems to be targeting Jack’s shifts at the firehouse. And on the personal front Jack is grappling with multiple issues, including one adopted sister whose friend was killed in a fire, another adopted sister facing cancer, and his own increasing personal interest in fellow firefighter, Cassie Ellis.
Cassie has spent more then a year recovering from injuries incurred in a nursing home fire. She still has lingering problems (hearing and vision loss) and isn’t sure if or when she’ll be able to return to her job as a firefighter. Her decision may be made sooner then she thought. As she’s leaving her newly opened bookstore she smells smoke. Cassie is the first to arrive at the scene of another arson fire and though she doesn’t realize it at first, she’s had a look at the arsonist. When she does realize this fact, she’s not sure how much to say. The man she saw reminded her all too much of her former partner, Ash, who felt responsible for her injuries in the nursing home and who recently disappeared.
The arsonist is getting much too close for comfort and though the title of the book is ostensibly describing Jack, both he and Cassie operate as protectors. Jack is determined to protect Cassie and his fellow firefighters. Cassie reluctantly returns to partial duty for the fire department in order to help find the arsonist. She wants him found before Jack or anyone else can be hurt in the ever more dangerous fires being set.
There should be some tension in what was just described. Tension because the arsonist is a threat to both these characters lives and tension because of their determination to keep each other out of harm. There’s not. Not many chapters after the reader knows that Cassie could be in danger because of what she saw, the author writes a scene from the villain’s perspective that makes it clear he doesn’t see her as a threat. Tension lost there.
The tension is also lost because of pacing. The book is broken into episodes that not only involve Jack and Cassie but many members of Jack’s family. Yes, developing a character by showing his interaction with others (not the heroine) is a plus, but there are too many of them. I haven’t read any of the other books in this series and I wanted a family tree to keep track of them all. Too many of the interactions Jack has with his family, while perfectly fine in and of themselves, have little or nothing to do with advancing the plot. Yes, some of these scenes are meant to demonstrate Jack’s attempts to figure out his religious feelings, but they bog down in the telling (not showing).
Jack and Cassie have a very real chemistry. His gentle and persistent pursuit of this woman who feels too battered to deal with a relationship was very nice, and I mean that in the best sense. There’s just not enough of them in the book and their story just trickles off by book’s end. For those of you who’ve read some of the other O’Malley books the appearance of Jack’s siblings may make this a must buy. As a stand alone it will join my list of pleasant (but ultimately forgettable) reads.