Someone has set a fire at the Zigfield Art Museum in upper Manhattan. It’s a “locked room” kind of fire that couldn’t possibly have occurred. Or could it? Wylie Nolan, assisted by attorney Max Bramble, suddenly has to reconstruct one of the most puzzling fires of his career.
Meanwhile, at Wylie’s office building, someone is setting fires in the ladies’ room down the hall, trying to implicate Wylie's friend, attorney Miranda Yee.
And on City Island, a final, more devastating fire takes one life and threatens to destroy another.
Three fires: Where did they start and who caused them? When Wylie Nolan investigates a fire scene, he does so meticulously. He calls the facts as he sees them; and he notices details that nobody else sees in spent matches, burn patterns, and ashes.
Reuben, who runs a fire investigation firm in New York City, writes with considerable technical authority in this inventive story of arson. She also fuels her tale with lively characters, such as 80-year-old Wegman Zigfield, who has used his fortune to convert a church into an art museum, dubbed Zigfield's folly, and to fill it with 19th-century paintings. He has just fired his incompetent son for staging a stunningly mediocre show of contemporary art by an artist whose career has clearly burned out--but not as fast as his canvases. In the middle of the night, the five of them go up in flames, leaving premier fire expert Wylie Nolan (seen previously in Origin and Cause) with five frames and five piles of ashes. Even more puzzling, the flames activated neither smoke detectors nor heat sensors; and, according to the crack security system, no one entered the gallery at all that evening. While the museum is facing its darkest hour, most of the staff is on edge, largely because of Georgiana Weeks, the beautiful visiting curator who could have inspired one of the Pre-Raphaelites whose show she is organizing. Reuben wisely balances the acerbic Nolan's techno-speak with subplots involving the lives and loves of the staff, some of whom harbor ambitions or grudges that appear to be, well, flammable. A nice foil for all the art-world flamboyance, the low-key Nolan cuts cleanly through lies and puffery to find the truth.