Independently published by author (no star rating given for indies)
Summary: (science/medical thriller) In quarantined Colorado, where hundreds of thousands of people are dying from an unstoppable disease called the red death, bereaved Kate Cummings struggles to find the courage to live and to love. In the midst of a violent, autocratic takeover of society by agencies of the federal government (backed by foreign UN troops), her life intersects with investigative reporter Greg Pullman. Pullman is determined to discover the truth behind the red death. Together they learn secrets about the plague, and also the meaning of community, and how to love each other.
Review: A Spark of Heavenly Fire is a quality piece of writing, extremely well-edited (no small thing for an indie book), and enjoyable to read. Structured around two separate (but related) plot lines, the book follows events in the city of Denver through the eyes of our heroes Kate and Greg. Kate is a lovable character in her early 40’s who falsely sees herself as old and spent after the tragic loss of her husband to a slow degenerative disease. Greg is an equally attractive figure, kind and supportive, doing what he can to figure out what is really happening in the locked-down state. Meanwhile, Greg’s girlfriend is on a dangerous quest with a movie star to illegally break the state quarantine. This plot line provides most of the thrills, and some great survivalist scenes on the lawless, frigid plains of eastern Colorado.
Although this novel is nominally a plague thriller, it has strong elements of romance and literary fiction, with many scenes about daily life and an emphasis on human relationships. The plague itself is kind of used as a device to bring out an important theme of the book, about government using a crisis to overstep its authority and slip into authoritarianism. The scariest things in this book aren’t plague deaths. They’re black helicopters, mutilated cattle, internment camps, human microchipping, foreign troops killing innocent Americans with impunity, and the New World Order.
Author Bertram clearly did a lot of research on the true history of biological warfare, and tons of this information is accurately presented in the story. (The nefarious Japanese doctors from WWII make an appearance.) However, scientific/medical plot elements (such as the plague germ and its natural history, the infectious disease ward at hospital, the role of “unmodified fats”, the distribution of hantaviruses) are not grounded in sound (realistic) science. Nonscientist readers probably won’t notice or care because it makes for a good story regardless.
STRENGTHS: Characters are better developed and more interesting than in most thrillers, which are notorious for paper thin characters. Lots of local detail will appeal to Coloradans. The attempt to escape from Colorado is spooky and thrilling. WEAKNESSES: Creating a backdrop of quarantine, plague, and massive death is an incredibly difficult task for a novelist. Bertram does a good job, but the reader can’t help feeling that the scene isn’t fully realistic and just isn’t disturbing enough. Life remains a bit too normal; for example, despite shortages and the fear of infection, characters are still going out to restaurants and to work at a clinic that is pretty much operating normally.
PARENT ALERT: some sex
FCC disclaimer: A free e-copy of this book was given to me by the author for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.