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by Chris Simms
Orion, May 2008
304 pages
10.99 GBP
ISBN: 0752889311

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

If you're a person of faith and that includes those of a more pagan bent then you may find HELL'S FIRE will raise your blood pressure through the roof. For those of us who aren't, Chris Simm's latest police procedural delivers an equal-opportunity kicking to both god-botherers and tree huggers.

If you've been keeping up with Simms's series, set in Manchester, you'll know that DI Jon Spicer is a rugby-playing cop with a tendency to lose his cool at inopportune moments, and a lack of ability to win friends and influence people.

His spats with colleagues are more or less in the background in HELL'S FIRE as Spicer and the Major Incident Team try to find out who's targeting churches in the city. In the latest attack a church is torched and a corpse and satanic symbols are found in the ruins. But that's not the only murder . . . someone is bumping off people in bizarre and gruesome ways. And it's threatening to get personal for Spicer.

This is the fourth book in the series and, as with the others, it's an odd mix. It's particularly strong on setting, and you'll feel by the end that you could wander round Manchester without a map, as Simms captures the contradictions of the industrial city dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

But the characterisation is far less satisfactory. There are some clumsy stereotypes across the religious groups, and none of the characters including Spicer are that likeable or even particularly well-developed. And that's a nuisance this far into a series.

Some of the characters have distinct possibilities, including Spicer's wife Alice, sister Ellie and his gay colleague DS Rick Saville. At the moment Saville stands around looking metrosexual, Ellie goes alternative, and Alice feeds the kiddy and whines about rugby. Mind you, there's a classic scene where Alice and Rick discuss his new boyfriend, and our resident Neanderthal shuffles his feet and looks embarrassed!

One strand that I hope Simms will explore in future books, though, is the bombshell dropped on Spicer by Ellie regarding her and their estranged brother.

So HELL'S FIRE doesn't quite convince on the characterisation front. But Simms plots well and he tells a good tale. And I'll cut any writer slack for that.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, April 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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