California Fire and Life
Don Winslow
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Buy *California Fire and Life* by Don Winslow online

California Fire and Life
Don Winslow
352 pages
September 2007
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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When Jack Wade, an investigator for California Fire and Life, arrives at the scene of a local incident of fire and accidental death, he is greeted by his nemesis, Brian “Accidental” Bentley of the Sheriff’s Department. Although the two worked together as fire investigators for the department, their history is marred by an incident that shattered Jack’s dreams for the future, his career and his relationship, although Jack’s stubbornness had something to do with the loss of the latter.

Sorting through the rubbish at Bluffside Drive just above Dana Strand Beach in Dana Point, Bentley wastes no time declaring the fire an accident, regardless of the charred corpse inside: the soon-to-be ex-wife of local real estate entrepreneur Nicky Vale. Ignoring Bentley, Jack continues to search the area, following his own finely honed instincts, which lead him to a completely different conclusion: an arson/murder.

Pamela Vale, once vibrant and beautiful, now lies in the rubble of her home, surrounded by valuable antiques collected by the couple over the years of their marriage. The extraordinarily attractive and successful couple have two children, both of whom are with their father and paternal grandmother at the time of the fire.

One of the last homes in a protected area soon to be overrun with greedy developers, Jack is heartbroken to see this place ruined, searching for the tell-tale signs of opportunism. With the support of his office, Jack pursues his own investigation, building a case that is irrefutable; unfortunately, it also gets the attention of some powerful players.

Jack notifies Nicky Vale in person to assess the bereaved husband’s reaction to the loss of his wife and is stunned by Vale’s obsession with recovering the value of the antiques, all of which are insured. To that end, Nicky provides Jack with a videotape featuring Pamela walking through the home only months before, describing each item.

Questioning Nicky’s motives, Wade isn’t surprised when Pam’s sister stands up during the funeral services, points an accusing finger at Nicky and calls him a murderer. What does surprise Jack is that Pamela’s sister is none other than Leticia, his former lover, a police officer who was out of his life twelve years before when Jack left the department.

With Leticia on the trail of a Vietnamese car theft ring and Jack delving deeper into Vale’s mysterious past, both are blindsided by the extent of the criminal enterprise behind the arson at Vale’s spectacular house. With his usual sleight of hand, Winslow delivers a novel filled with menace: gang-bangers in Garden Grove’s Little Saigon; the intimidating reach of the Russian mob in local affairs; elaborate insurance fraud; rampant bribery in the hallowed halls of corporate interests; and the collision of a booming economy with a failing market.

From Dana Point to the local haunts in Laguna Beach and San Juan Capistrano, from Ortega Highway to PCH, nature’s bounty is polluted by greed, criminals masquerading as respectable businessmen in a haven of reinvented lives, lost souls, love and debauchery in sunny southern California, Wade the only man standing in the way of the deal of the century. A page-turner from the first, an outraged and betrayed Wade takes this break full speed ahead, riding the crest to its violent conclusion, committed to a personal code of honor.

Click here for Luan Gaines' interview with California Fire and Life author Don Winslow

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2007

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