Sunday, 11 January 2015

Soot Angel (featuring Dr Anja Toussant) by M A Petterson

The expertise and knowledge needed by a fire investigator include building construction, chemistry, physics, fire behaviour, electricity, law, the human body and psychology. Dr Anja Toussant is a forensic scientist in name and a fire investigator by trade.

She has all these skills and is required to use them, along with a good amount of courage and bravery to establish the cause of a fire where a baby has been burnt alive (a Soot Angel)

It is not just a story of discovering the cause of the fire by a highly competent fire investigator.  There is so much that weaves throughout this book including terrorism, political corruption and interference, and Anja’s own story that progresses from the first book in the series, a prequel novella, Fire Sign.

Her investigation has her dealing with a variety of evil, strange, mysterious and often just plain incompetent people.

Several stories weave throughout including a training exercise devised by Anja. The test does not just test the many skills, knowledge and fitness needed by first responders but gives Anja the opportunity to demonstrate how incompetent the battalion chief is.  The inclusion of story lines like this also gives us gradual insight into Anja’s ability, personality and mysterious past.

It is also not just about professional fire fighters but the Wild Wind County Volunteer Fire Department feature in Anja’s life – “her friends provide her with sly humour, tough cheer, stout spirit and to be involved with their crude misdeeds and bold transgressions”.

Through his words, Petterson has the ability to transport the reader to beautiful and tragic scenes and be drawn into fast paced and adrenalin pumping action.

But it not just in the images created for the various scenes that Petterson’s descriptive writing has the reader page turning. When Anja is teaching a group of Fire Behaviour students she describes a wildfire blaze that in the minds of her students and in the reader becomes very real.

Petterson skilfully blends in humour when two opposing volunteer brigades compete for a local trophy and managed to bring tears to my eyes when a young probie (trainee) volunteer fire-fighter is seriously injured.

Throughout the book Petterson demonstrates his knowledge of fire and those dedicated to protecting our lives and property and his enormous respect.

I read this book as bushfires rage across South Australia where crews of volunteers, including some from my local brigade (I live in New South Wales) are battling to save lives, property and animals. Petterson’s description of the volunteer training, roles and challenges is not unlike our own volunteer fire-fighters in Australia. I can relate to all they experience.

My favourite quote in the book: “When I grow up I want to be a fireman.” To which the old hand replied. “You can’t do both son.” It’s my favourite quote because my son is both a professional and volunteer fire fighter.

I would like to also mention that a portion of the profits from the sale of the Dr Anja Toussant series is donated to one or more burn camps for children. Please take the time to read about “Anja’s Kids” on the website