Combustion, by Martin J. Smith

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Martin J. Smith, and Diversion Books for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In his gripping new crime thriller, Martin J. Smith shows readers how versatile he can be, especially when he turns up the heat! Ron Starke is a longtime resident of Los Colmas, just outside the LA environs. He’s idolised his father for as long as he can remember, climbing through the ranks and securing one of two detective spots on the Los Colmas PD. After weeks of handling the missing persons case of Paul Dwyer, a body turns up in some water out by a new residential development. After the forensics proves it to be Dwyer’s body, Starke must turn the investigation into one with a homicide focus. With a new Chief of Police, Donna Kerrigan, riding him, Starke must do everything by the book in order to curry her favour, though she appears to have other plans. After approaching the widow, Shelby Dwyer, Starke must try to determine who might have had a motive to kill her husband. Shelby reveals a different side to Paul from the man everyone knew; one who was prone to violence, binge drinking, and chasing down any woman of his choosing. As Starke continues the investigation, the wildfires rage on the horizon, with an evacuation notice potentially days away. Working quickly, Starke learns that Shelby sought to trade in her computer the day after her husband went missing, but has no solid reason for doing so. Her less than casual follow-ups after the body is found leads Starke to wonder if there might be something more than mere technological curiosity on her mind. With a number of people coming forward with less than stellar stories about Paul Dwyer, Starke has many leads he must chase down before swooping in to make an arrest. When fire breaches the city limits, Starke has yet to find the killer, but Shelby has a secret, one that could blow the entire case wide open. Smith crafts this story so well that dedicated readers will blaze through it to discover what lies in the closing chapters.

This is my first experience with Smith and his writing, but it will definitely not be my last. The character development is crisp and offers readers a wonderful look into the lives of many, while not bogging the story down at any point. Ron Starke’s detective role is evident, but his back story, which includes a youthful romance with the widow, is neither lost on the reader or labelled as trivial. It weaves its way into the plot and offers a powerful impetus to judge the neutrality and professionalism that Starke can exhibit during the homicide investigation. Other characters work well in conjunction with Starke, including Chief Kerrigan, whose oil and water contrast throughout the story keeps Starke on his toes. A strong narrative coupled with short chapters helps push the story forward and keeps the reader wanting a little more to solve the case on their own. Smith knows all the key building blocks to a successful novel and incorporates them with ease as he places the setting amidst a developing wildfire. These elements can only offer the reader the highest quality action and suspense with Smith’s latest novel. Highly recommended to anyone who has a hankering for a top tier crime thriller with a pace that does not wane.

Kudos, Mr. Smith for this great piece of writing. You have found a new fan and I hope to devour the rest of your work as soon as I can locate it.