Kathryn Shay’s “America’s Bravest” series about firefighters in fictional Rockford, NY, was a winner with readers and reviewers alike. Shay spent lots of time with the Rochester fire department and clearly captured the special courage that characterizes men and women who willingly rush into burning buildings. While her new release doesn’t
quite have the special something that made all three of the previous books keepers, it is still a powerful story, especially in light of the events of 9/11.
The hero is Dr. Reed Macauley, the department’s psychologist. A former firefighter, Reed understands the psyches of the people he serves. In fact, a traumatic event in his past has left him psychologically wounded himself, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. This has led him to wall himself off from close relationships and love. A New Year’s Eve romantic encounter with Delaney Shaw threatens his hard won emotional stability; he could easily let her get very close. But rather than opening himself up to his feelings, he shuts Delaney out.
Delaney is also a psychologist, specializing in children and adolescents. The sister of a Rockford firefighter and sister-in-law of an RFD captain, Delaney is a logical choice to work with Reed on the department’s Family Assistance Network. But Delaney hesitates; she knows she is close to falling in love with Reed, despite his distancing tactics. Then, a Rockford firefighter is killed and the need for her skills brings the two together.
The impact of Tommy Leone’s death on his family and his colleagues is powerfully drawn and intensely moving. As is so often the case, Tommy came from a family of firefighters. His older brother, Sam, has a tremendous problem accepting the death and his reaction impacts his family as well. Reed and Delaney join forces to try to help the Leones come to terms with their loss.
Given the undoubted strengths of The Fire Within, what keeps it from being a keeper, at least for this reader? My problem centers on the actions of the hero. Reed is a psychologist, for heaven’s sake. He has, since he left the NYFD, gotten a Ph.D. in the field. He works every day helping people deal with trauma. Yet, in his own case,
suffering as he is from a serious psychological problem, he ignores the teaching of his own discipline and refuses to confront his own demons. This didn’t make sense to me so, instead of sympathizing with Reed, I found myself frustrated by his behavior.
Delaney is frustrated by Reed’s behavior, too. She probably shows more understanding than someone without her background would have and her refusal to give up on Reed is admirable.
Getting reacquainted with the characters from Shay’s previous books adds enjoyment to the story as does all of the telling detail about the pressures of firefighters’ lives. These are special people, as we Americans have discovered. In Shay, they have found a sensitive and talented interpreter of their stories. I hope her tales of “America’s
Bravest” keep coming.