Happy Book Birthday to Catherine McKenzie whose latest release, Smoke, is brand new out today!
On the very evening that Beth and Ben decide to divorce, a fire breaks out in a nearby Nelson neighborhood. In just a few hours it has spread far enough for Beth and Ben's home to be included in the evacuation zone. Forced to put their relationship trouble on hold, the two take refuge in Ben's parents' home and wait to see what happens next.
Beth, a former arson investigator, left behind her work when she and Ben decided to try and have kids. Aside from the fact that it kept her away from Ben for long periods of time, she'd always feared that the stress of the job was one of the things standing in her way. And it's been a point of contention between them for some time now. Unfortunately, her former expertise and her current position in the local prosecuting attorney's office means she's been tasked with investigating the fire and helping find the person responsible. The job provides a welcome distraction from her strained marriage but could be the thing that finally tears Ben away from her for good, something Beth isn't quite sure she's ready for in spite of her decision to divorce.
As Beth works to find the fire's cause, her one-time friend, Mindy, rallies to raise funds for a local man whose home has already been destroyed by the fire. But as the damage spreads, suspicion and accusations about the fire's source begin to run rampant and Mindy finds herself caught in the crossfire.
While the topic - fire and fire management/prevention - are quite different compared to McKenzie's other works, at it's core Smoke features a lot of the same themes as her previous releases. Especially Hidden. Secrets, trust, friendship, and relationships are all central to the story.
Beth and Mindy, once very close friends, split over an argument spawned by high emotion and a mutual misunderstanding that, when combined with Beth's own fight or flight response, led to an irreparably broken friendship. And it's this same response that later causes Beth to push Ben away. And yet Ben isn't innocent in their predicament either. He holds onto an animosity that seems to stem from his own lack of control. Of course neither Beth or Ben (or Beth or Mindy ) talks about the issue, which makes things worse. When you add the obvious stress and fear of literally losing everything to a force that's completely beyond control, you can imagine how heightened the tension can become. It's a true testament to McKenzie's talent as an author that she's able to so fully invest her readers in a story that relies on convincingly pulling this off for the characters.
And she does definitely invest her readers in the story! I was kind of wrecked by this book and all of the emotions it brought! I was so easily able to connect with Beth and Mindy that I found myself angry, afraid, overwrought, and every other emotion they experienced right alongside them! I think I've said things to this effect about McKenzie's work before - that her characters are so well drawn that they feel real, like my own friends and family - and that's certainly the case once again with Smoke.
I know I tend to fangirl over Catherine McKenzie, but I honestly think she's one of the best authors in the business. If you're looking for a thoughtful read that will pull at your heartstrings, Smoke should definitely be on your "must read" list.