When she wrote White Heat, Jill Shalvis included so many strong elements that the resulting story was more or less guaranteed to succeed. The elements include a damaged hero, a gutsy heroine, a strong cast of supporting characters, an unusual setting, and a blazing challenge.
Griffin Moore was a hotshot, a professional forest fire fighter. He fought fires all over the country, always with the same crew, until he lost his crew – twelve men altogether, including his best friend – when they died fighting a fire in Idaho. Since then, for the past year, Griffin has been almost paralyzed by a combination of post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt. He fled across the country, from his home in South Carolina to San Diego, and left no forwarding address. It has taken his younger brother, Brody, almost a year to track him down.
As a sort of shock therapy, Brody has signed Griff up to spend a weekend as a volunteer, fighting the fires burning near a Mexican village called San Puebla. Griffin is appalled and refuses to go, so Brody has to pull out his big gun: their mother. If Griffin doesn’t go, Brody will tell his mother where to find Griff, and their mother will descend on him to sympathize and ‘help.’ The threat works. Griffin goes even though he is nauseous with terror.
The best way to get to the remote areas of the state of Chihuahua is to fly in. Griffin’s pilot is Lyndie Anderson, a woman with attachment problems. Orphaned at four, she was raised by her tough, professional Air Force grandfather. Her grandfather didn’t encourage close friendships or most of the social graces, and their frequent moves reinforced his attitude. Lyndie is happiest in the air, flying her Cessna 206, “a station wagon with wings.”
Lyndie is employed by Hope International, an organization that provides volunteer doctors, dentists, and other professionals to remote areas such as San Puebla. She plans to drop Griffin off, then return to San Diego to put in some beach time. But when she arrives in San Puebla, the sheriff persuades her to stay and translate for Griffin. Griff speaks no Spanish, the rag-tag lot of farmers and shopkeepers whom he will be supervising speak no English, and Lyndie is bi-lingual.
I found Lyndie an engaging heroine. She is a prickly little firecracker whose toughness might have come across as annoyingly aggressive if she hadn’t been as honest with herself as she was with others. As early as the flight to San Puebla, she realizes that she finds the hunky Griffin unusually attractive. She wants to handle the attraction in her usual way: with a quick one-night stand to scratch the itch. The only problem is that Griffin won’t cooperate.
Griffin hasn’t given women a thought in the past year, but he finds himself drawn to Lyndie’s combination of strength and, occasionally, sympathy. He admires her drive to keep up with him despite the difference in their sizes, musculature, and experience with fires. He also notices that she has a neat little figure and a pixie-like face under that spiky red hair. He has never been a one-night-stand kind of guy, however, and he is still anguished by his losses in the Idaho fire. He fears letting Lyndie get close to him. He can’t face the possibility of another loss.
Their romance plays out with the forest fire and San Puebla as backdrops, and supported by several interesting secondary characters, principally Griff’s brother, Brody. Twenty-eight-year-old Brody floated through life until Griffin’s tragedy; now he has gone out on a limb to try to resurrect the Griffin he knew before Idaho. In so doing, he is forced to evaluate his life style and make some important choices that will affect his future.
I am an info-wonk so it was a given that I would be interested in anything Ms. Shalvis wanted to tell us about fire fighting. I recognize that other readers may not be so eager for this information. I think that Ms. Shalvis has struck a nice balance: her narrative includes enough detail to make clear how threatening the situation is, but not so much that White Heat becomes a text book on how to fight a forest fire.
The depiction of San Puebla and its surroundings was even more successful…so successful that I closed the book wishing I could book a trip to the Copper Canyon area of Mexico. Barring an unexpected inheritance, that won’t happen. I did, however, make an enjoyable visit through the pages of White Heat and met a likable pair of lovers in the process.
--Nancy J. Silberstein