Chris Quarembo’s new mystery/suspense novel runs the gamut of what makes good thrillers. She combines the ingredients of a memorable protagonist/narrator, a complex plot with numerous twists and turns, rising action leading to a satisfying conclusion, and enough fraud, arson, and murder to keep any reader engaged from the first page.
The protagonist and narrator, Andria Fabiano, is charged with finding out what’s behind several fires in properties owned by speculator Sean McFarland. When she investigates a fire in an abandoned warehouse, Andrea discovers the charred remains of a body. Later, she learns her immediate supervisor, Nate Warner, has disappeared. All of this escalates quickly into a maze of murder, conspiracy, and coverup.
Quarembo has created a memorable character in Andrea: no-nonsense, smart, fast-talking, and dogged in her pursuit of answers to scores of questions that arise as she delves into the mysteries surrounding the outbreak of fires and disappearances. She’s a foodie, principally a lover of junk food and chocolate, is claustrophobic, was orphaned and then taken in by the family of Tom Volpe, who now works with the Philadelphia Police Department. She also has a love interest, a newspaper columnist, Russ Hanley. She’s compelling enough that the reader would love to see more development of her. Let’s hope that will happen in Quarembo’s subsequent novels.
Quarembo’s brilliant use of dialogue provides the satisfying meat that brings often sparely described mini-scenes to life. One of her protagonist’s greatest weapons is her quick-wittedness and capacity to handle tough situations:
“. . .I saw him eye his gun on a nearby side table.
‘Stay where you are, or I’ll shoot,’ I said. ‘I can’t miss this close.’
He hesitated, then pulled his hand back toward his side.
‘Smart move, Bobby.’
Tanya was till sobbing and moaning.
‘Get up off the floor, Tanya, and go sit in that chair where I can see you.’ I nodded toward a chair near the window, out of reach of Regan’s gun.
‘What about the groceries? I have things for the freezer,’ she said.
‘Tanya, forget about the food. Stay out of this. I’m not here for you, but I can shoot you as easily as your boyfriend if you interfere.’
She obeyed and sank into the chair. ‘Can’t you put the gun down? It frightens me.’
‘He’s already shot me once. I’m not stupid enough to give him another chance.’”
Like James Patterson, Quarembo uses staccato-like short scenes, a technique that sends the narrative careening ahead, the reader breathless by the novel’s end. Let’s hope that Quarembo, like Dorothy L. Sayers, Dashiell Hammett, Patterson, and George V. Higgins, produces sequel after sequel so we can follow the further adventures of Andrea Fabiano.