This sequel to After the Fire has two and a half pairings, Noah Callahan and Eve Woodward, Zach Malvaso and Casey Brennan, and Ian Woodward and Lisel Loring. Noah and Zach were introduced in the first book in the series.
Noah Callahan is the chief of the fire department of Hidden Cove, New York. A number of suspicious incidents including equipment failures and substandard wiring have led to the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control to send Captain Eve Woodward to investigate him. Eve is both glad and concerned to be away from her brother Ian, a firefighter injured at the Twin Towers on September 11. His legs are paralyzed, and he’s confined to a wheelchair. Ian has a defeatist attitude that worries his sister.
Eve’s initial suspicions of Noah’s complicity in criminal actions slowly erode when she observes him interacting with his daughter, granddaughter, and the other firefighters as well as working to build a camp for children who’ve lost family members. She finds herself slowly falling in love with him, but the evidence against him is so strong.
Zach Malvaso is the brother of the hero of After the Fire and was one of the main characters in that book. Zach’s many infidelities – including an affair with Noah’s late wife – led to a divorce from his first wife. He regrets his behavior and resolves to change. He finds himself attracted to another firefighter, Casey Brennan.
Casey is divorced and the mother of twin daughters. Her abusive childhood left her with low self-esteem and a lack of confidence in her ability to be a wife or mother. Now she’s trying to reach out to her daughters even though she is having difficulty relating to the feminine pursuits that interest them. She is equally attracted to Zach but knows that any romance is doomed to fail.
After a time apart, Ian joins Eve in Hidden Cove. The next door neighbor is Broadway star Lisel Loring. Ian believes that his scars and disability guarantee a lifetime alone, but Lisel’s sweetness starts to get to him.
If you read the back cover blurb of On the Line, you’ll learn that the hero of the book is Noah Callahan. By definition, a hero can be either a book’s main male character or a man admired for his character or achievement. Romance readers know a hero is the hunky guy the heroine is going to end up with.
Noah may be admirable, but he takes second chair to Zach Malvaso in the main male character department. And this is a weakness of the book. Zach never recovered from his first wife’s remarriage and has only himself to blame. He says something so unforgivable near the end of the book, I was hoping Casey’d give him the boot and change her phone number. But Casey’s even more messed up. This is a woman in serious need of years and years of counseling. It’s hard to believe that there’s a happily ever after in Zach’s and Casey’s future because they’ve got loads of misery between them.
I guess the problem is that nice guys are dull and uninteresting to write about. They star in the blurb but are relegated to secondary status in the plot. It’s unfortunate that Noah gets overshadowed by Zach because there’s a lot like about Noah and dislike about Zach.
The solution to the mystery behind all the incidents that lead to Eve’s investigation is pretty implausible. I figured out the who pretty early on, but the why is so farfetched that few readers will guess it.
On the Line is heavily dependent on the first book, After the Fire – it’s more a continuation than a sequel. There’s enough back story that readers who didn’t read the first may not be lost, but having read the first is advisable for full understanding. An excerpt in the back of the book indicates that Ian and Lisel are not finished and will be featured in the next book.
Kathryn Shay is a talented author with an ability to create multi-dimensional characters. On the Line has weaknesses that keep it from recommended status, but it has enough strengths that it could still be a good choice.