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Gideon's Fire, J J Marric (pen name of John Creasy), Harper, 1960, 208 pp
Another of the five books read from my 1962 list in August was this Scotland Yard mystery, winner of the 1962 Edgar Award. J J Marric was a pen name used by John Creasy, who was so prolific that he wrote under 18 different pseudonyms and published over 600 mysteries! Gideon's Fire is the eighth of 22 books in his Gideon Series.
George Gideon is the Commander of the Criminal Investigation Department at Scotland Yard. He has a wife and four children, all of whom he loves dearly and who also feature in the book, but it is his job that he devotes himself to and that defines him. Conscientious, honest, a good leader, but perhaps a bit overly hands-on with the cases.
He arrives at work an unusual 30 minutes late to learn that a terrible fire the previous night had killed an entire family, leaving many other tenants burned and in shock after their whole tenement building was consumed. Adding in the rape/murder of a 14-year-old girl and two other time sensitive investigations, the man has his hands full.
As the story progresses, the fire turns out to be one of many, probably set by a psychotic arsonist. One of the murder cases begins to look like the work of a serial killer. In fact, the plot blows up like a raging fire. By the third chapter the reader is living all the stress right along with Gideon.
Though it is a rather standard police procedural, Gideon's Fire has a couple unusual features. The criminals in each case are included as characters with their own actions and thoughts covered by the same third person narrator. Thus the reader gets the story from both sides, adding even more tension.
In the end the Yard's Criminal Investigation Department prevails but there are deaths and disasters along the way. Gideon feels bad about those, as any good law enforcement professional would. In fact, the author makes you feel bad too as he takes you into Gideon's mind.
Another different feature though is that this man is not cynical, he is not being beaten down by his job or any of his superiors or even by the prevalence of crime in the vast city of London. He knows what the odds are, he knows he is competent, and he stays on top of the game. Refreshing I thought.
(Gideon's Fire is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)