The Spark by John Kenny – book review

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by Rod Croskery, M.Ed.

Donny Robertson probably sees himself as an underdog even though he has risen within the Toronto Fire Department to the rank of Captain. Newly placed in charge of the crew in a historic fire station in downtown Toronto, he allows his more outgoing colleagues to make the small talk while he hangs back. He does, however, show a tenacious sense of duty and he keeps digging into the circumstances of a recent warehouse fire which killed his best friend and left him scarred.

So Kenny’s character makes his way through The Spark. As he doggedly searches for the truth about the fire, he comes in for more unconventional injuries than a Dick Francis jockey, and he’s no better with his fists than Bennie Cooperman. For example, when Donny at one point trades pot-shots with the villain, his flare pistol’s first blast glances harmlessly off a wall and gutters to darkness on the floor. The second sets the boat on fire. Donny’s eclipsed in the reader’s mind by the villain of the piece, a twisted killer-for-hire who goes to elaborate lengths to perform simple assassinations.

Perhaps Kenny became too fond of his villain in the writing of this first novel – it’s an easy vice for a rookie. After all, the main character is pretty flat, driven by his knowledge of the world of fire fighting and his conviction that he’s not good at marriage. Hardly sexy stuff. While Donny’s courageous to a fault in fire fighting sequences – these are highly interesting, by the way — he seems quite uncomfortable in the presence of his new probationary employee, Susan, and his backhoe-operator-girlfriend.

Kenny is careful to blame NSA for all of the spook stuff in the book, even though the “gausometer” was mentioned in Signals Intelligence retiree Mike Frost’s 1990’s Canadian tell-all, The Spying Game. For why should a fire department procedural not take off into the spy genre in its second half? And why not on on water? Donny-the-failure-at-marriage has a good sailboat and Kenny uses a plot twist to send him up the Trent to Tobermory for the climax of the novel.

Mysteries often degenerate into run-and-duck’s by the middle chapter. Clive Cussler built a lucrative franchise on far-fetched plots, seafaring action in exotic boats, and the willing suspension of disbelief of his many readers. Kenny keeps the pages turning quickly with a combination of action sequences, semi-comic romance, detailed looks into the world of emergency services and toxic chemicals, and a very luxurious yacht.

I hope we see more of Donny Robertson and his crew in subsequent novels.

The Spark is published by Incendiary Publications, 2013