Michael Brissenden

Affirm Press
28 May 2024


Michael Brissenden

What secrets lie in the ashes?

After a brutal wildfire tears through the town of Jasper in the Californian sierras, a body is discovered in a shed. It looks like an open-and-shut case of accidental death – until further investigation reveals that the victim was locked in from the outside.

Years after leaving Jasper, Detective Alex Markov has been sent back under the shadow of an LAPD corruption investigation. She is convinced that the man, a family friend, was murdered opportunistically under the cover of the fire. As the smoke clears, Alex reveals a town corrupt to its core – but exposing that corruption could destroy her and the people she loves. Will she ignore the crookedness and deceit, or face the consequences of pursuing an inconvenient tr


Journalist Michael Brissenden has covered the impact huge fires have on communities in his work for the ABC. This knowledge is apparent in his latest novel; an atmospheric dive into how a fire-ravaged town deals with the trauma of losing homes, lives, and livelihoods.

Set in an imagined place in California, Detective Alex Markov returns to her hometown, Jasper, to work. When a fire hits the area, she becomes convinced that a family friend has been killed; left alone to burn in a locked room. To find the answers, she needs to question people she has known since her youth. It would be easier to overlook the crime, but, of course, she does not. As the consequences of her investigation begin to emerge, the townspeople’s reactions become frightening. However, thankfully, Alex knows exactly how power works.

It is Brissenden’s experience as a journalist that makes this plot so believable. As a reader, you are thrust immediately into the smoky landscape and the homes of the survivors. You become privy to conversations held and learn that this is a story about more than a murder. It is a story of corruption, small-town pettiness and history. It is a portrait of what happens when isolation, grief, and racism are allowed to prosper.

You could also say, on one level, that this is simply a fast-paced, good old-fashioned detective story, and fans of rural crime reading will relish the setting. Readers of Don Winslow and Chris Hammer will delight that there is a new detective on the scene, and she is harder on herself than anyone else. Most of all though, this is a novel that is a warning to us all. Smoke is an examination of what happens if we do not speak up. It is a story that endorses truth-telling.

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