Red Flag Warning
Review: Kurt Kamm crafts an interesting, if rather thinly plotted, serial arson whodunit-style mystery set in the Los Angeles area in Red Flag Warning, the title taken from the alert issued by the National Weather Service to indicate ideal conditions for natural — and some intentionally set — wildfires.
Fire captain and arson investigator Jim Kendall knows this season will be a difficult one. Bone dry conditions and brutal temperatures in southern California are the perfect combination for wildfires to start and spread. And that's before the hot and fierce Santa Ana winds start blowing. Natural wildfires, such as those started by lightning strikes, are practically unavoidable … but the ones Kendall fears the most are those started by people, sometimes accidentally but more often the result of criminal activity. A sudden rash of seemingly random, but obviously carefully planned, fires has captured his attention this year, destroying not only property but killing people in the process. Believing them to be the work of a single individual, Kendall is determined to identify — and stop — this serial arsonist before too much more damage can be done, and more lives are lost.
Red Flag Warning opens introducing the serial arsonist — known only as NiteHeat — to the reader. The profile provided for NiteHeat is credible and quite detailed, even down to the psychology of why the crime of arson: the most useful method of clearing the debris, human and otherwise, from the world. The other characters are equally well drawn, including Kendall and his handful of principal suspects. These characters, together with the realistic descriptions of everyday life during fire season in southern California — anyone who now lives there or has ever lived there will immediately recognize how well characterized the story is in this regard — are the most appealing elements of the story.
What doesn't work quite as well is the overall structure of the story and how the plot unfolds. Unfortunately, for what is probably intended as a thriller, little suspense is actually generated. And the whodunit aspect is also somewhat clumsily handled, filled with too many (obvious and distracting) red herrings. Still, the author's voice of authenticity tends to make up for these shortcomings, with Red Flag Warning being, in the end, a satisfying variation on the serial crime novel.
Acknowledgment: Kurt Kamm provided an ARC of Red Flag Warning for this review.
Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
MCM Publishing (Trade Paperback), November 2011
ISBN-13: 9780979855139; ISBN-10: 0979855136
Location(s) referenced in Red Flag Warning: Los Angeles, California
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Red Flag Warning by Kurt Kamm
Publisher: Aberdeen Bay
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: May 2010
List Price: $15.95