Jason Gum is a young Seattle firefighter, the narrator of this novel. He begins: "Experts estimated the pig fell just over 11,000 feet before it plunged through Iola Pederson's roof." Now, that's how to get your audience's attention -- the first words on page one.
Earl Emerson has become a skillful writer of mystery and suspense. I've enjoyed reading his work, and I think I've missed few of his novels over the years. I especially enjoyed the Mac Fontana books. The last few of his novels have dealt with the environment he knows from personal experience: the city of Seattle and its Fire Department. Emerson is a lieutenant in that organization, so he knows what he's writing about. My paltry experience as a volunteer gives me enough basic firefighting knowledge to be able to nod my head at the accuracy of what he describes, including the powerful and not always pleasant personalities.
The Smoke Room is a novel about Gum's misadventures and involvement in the less-than-savory actions of two fellow firefighters. Gum's steamy involvement with an older woman that commences from the unlikely falling pig incident on page one causes -- through a series of circumstances -- him to be implicated in what could be the theft of a fortune in bearer bonds. Add to this complicated mess the fact that his mother is terminally ill, and Jason's life just starts falling apart, the way the first few tons of snow begin to slide in the beginning seconds of an avalanche.
Some of the characters are less than believable, sort of out-of-focus, and the story line seems unfinished, perhaps prepared with insufficient time, but I forgive the author on the strength of the many enjoyable hours he's given me.
This isn't Emerson's best work, but I found it well worth reading. At 308 pages it's a reasonable weekend read, or entertainment for a medium-sized airplane trip. It does become rather suspenseful toward the end -- at least in the sense that I truly wondered how Emerson would resolve such a tangled story in the few remaining pages.
If you haven't read any of Emerson's books, I would recommend several. He started out with the "Thomas Black" detective series, most of which are very good. Try Fat Tuesday or Yellow Dog Party, for instance. Of his most recent books, I thought Pyro was very good. But my weakest spot is for the "Mac Fontana" series. Black Hearts and Slow Dancing will serve as a suggestion, but you can't go wrong with any of them, in my opinion.
More information about Mr. Emerson, his books, and his personal appearances, may be seen at http://earlemerson.com/.