When I first started reading After the Fire, I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy it particularly when the very first page launched into quite graphic and hostile descriptions of prison life which did not make very easy reading. However, I am so glad I stuck with this book as it developed into a fantastic read with many dimensions that all contributed to my enjoyment.
We learn very early on that Jamie Worth, a newly qualified firearms officer, is on his way to prison. It turns out that he has been convicted of murder having shot a teenage girl whilst on duty. Already traumatised by what has happened, his world is turned upside down when it seems that the Force is looking for a scapegoat and it's going to be Jamie! Only Cath, his wife, and Anna, his former lover, still believe in him but can the two women forget the past in order to help Jamie!
Following on from the brief introduction showing Jamie entering prison, the book is divided into two halves - Before and After. These refer to events leading up to Jamie's sentencing and then what happens once he is imprisoned. I thought separating the story in this way worked particularly well.
I liked finding out what had happened on the night of the shooting and all the chaos that ensued. I thought this was particularly well written and it was easy to imagine how orders could have become confused as the tension escalated. Even more fascinating though was to witness Jamie's behaviour afterwards as he struggled to come to terms with what he had caused to happen as well as the slow realisation that the people that he worked with were not going to support him. Most poignant was the way he pushed Cath away and could not talk to her however hard she tried to help him. It's a very moving portrayal of how a tragedy such as this affects many people.
The After section was also an engrossing read. There was much graphic description of prisoner behaviour which was not always comfortable to read. Because Jamie was a policeman he came in for more abuse than most which meant a lot of time spent in solitary. The author was extremely good at demonstrating how Jamie was feeling and it was extremely moving reading about him at his lowest points. We were also shown what was happening to Cath as she struggled to bring up the children on no money and still manage to hold her head high. When Anna enters the scene, there is suddenly a sense of hope that the two women will manage to find out what really happened and clear Jamie's name.
All three main characters were totally believeable and I found myself starting to care what happened to them which is really important to me when I am reading. If I don't like the characters I am unlikely to enjoy the book. Luckily, this was not the case here, and I so wanted to find out what was going to happen to them that I found myself snatching odd moments to read throughout the day. This well paced, tense novel was so good that I did not want to put it down!
This is a book that has everything including gritty prison and dramatic court scenes, insights into police procedures as well as some tender family moments. The transition between all of these is superb as is the pace which increases well as the story moves towards its climax.
I was a little confused by the title - After the Fire. At first I thought it might be some reference to the gunfire on that night, but after investigating a little further it appears that this book is a sequel to Karen Campbell's first novel The Twilight Time. It did not spoil my enjoyment that I had not read the other book first but it has made me more than a little curious about what may have happened previously to the characters I got to know so well.
The hardback version of this book can currently be bought on Amazon for £9.09.
THis review has previously appeared under my name at www.thebookbag,co,uk
Jamie is a newly qualified Firearms Officer with Glasgow police when he gets a shout to an incident in a south side tenement. At the scene he finds a young inexperienced Inspector and with no tactical firearms advisors available is left to go in with just one other firearms officer. In a scene that is tense, fraught with confusion and lacking control a young girl is shot dead, by Jamie.
Suddenly propelled into the media glare and with the public baying for blood, Jamie and his family face the harsh reality as the system turns against him, the colleagues he thought he could trust one by one turn their backs on him, the force he saw as his family hang him out to dry and he gets sentenced and sent to Barlinnie prison where the jungle drums have been beating and the inmates are waiting for him.
This story is not just about Jamie, it's also about his wife Cath and his two small children who find themselves isolated with none of the protection they've been used to. Cath is the true heroine of this story; she is already haunted by Jamie's previous extra-marital liaison with Inspector Anna Cameron and as his trial approaches she has to cope with his downward spiral into despair and his inability to fight back, at the same time trying to protect their two young children from the backlash, the gossip and the media.
What made this book for me was the author's characterisation, the relationships, the tension and the realism that just jumps off the pages at you. The confusion at the scene of the shooting when Jamie makes that split-second decision and fires, Caths utter devastation as the system they'd grown to rely on turns its back on her and her family, it all comes together to make a truly compelling novel.
This book is gritty and gut-wrenchingly real but amongst the darkness there are also glimmers of real humour that shine through.
This is Karen Campbells second novel featuring the same characters but it's not essential to read 'The Twilight Time' first to enjoy this one (although I must admit I was so taken with this one I did buy the previous one whilst reading it)
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