Also by this author: Aftermath, Aftermath, Private Justice, Shadow of Doubt, Word of Honor, Line of Duty, Smoke Screen
Series: Newpointe 911 #4
Published by Zondervan on October 18, 2000
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Suspense
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Pastor and fireman Nick Foster found the body in the inferno engulfing his church. From the bullet wound in the head, it's clear this is no ordinary fire victim. The quiet community of Newpointe, reeling from the shock of the dead man's identity, struggles with the agonizing question: who did it --- and why?
Paramedic Issie Mattreaux is no icon of virtue, but she cares enough about her teenage nephew, Jake, to track him down when he turns up missing. Only, what she finds is far more than a harmless bonfire on the outskirts of town.
After a chilling attempt on Issie's life, Nick takes on the role of protector even as he struggles wit the tragedy that has struck his church. Whoever is behind the fire is far from finished. Unknown to Nick, that person's twisted agenda now threatens to consume everything he loves most.
Terri Blackstock has been a banner name in Christian fiction for over twenty years. I’ve found some of her books riveting and some of her books lacking. Recently, I decided to go back to some of her older books that I’d never read and see how her stories and writing style had changed and progressed. I started with Newpointe 911, a five-book series published between 1998-2003, that focuses on a group of first responders, their families, and way more drama than you’d expect from a small town.
Book four in Newpointe 911, if you’ve been following the series, invites you back to old friends. The first three books were all published in 1998, so it’s been a two-year gap since Blackstock visited these characters and there’s a definite change in tone. Trial by Fire takes a dark twist into a pseudo-cult bent on revenge against Nick Foster, Newpointe fireman and pastor. Caught up in it all is paramedic Issie Mattreaux. Best remembered for being the wedge between Mark and Allie’s relationship in Private Justice, Issie has lingered in the background but comes to the forefront here. Her nephew is caught up in the cult and her efforts to help him make her a target as well.
Trial by Fire suffers from Blackstock’s most common flaw: too many underdeveloped plot points. The pseudo-cult functions as an amalgamation of religious extremists, the KKK, and teenage gangs. I really wish Blackstock had picked a lane because the group’s motivation for murder never seems believable. They target Nick because he challenged the group for offensive picket signs sporting hateful messages. Their leader is a charismatic brother/sister pair with an abusive past whose parents were KKK members. Some of their killings are racially motivated. Like Word of Honor, Blackstock removes the mystery and tells us exactly who the killers are and focuses on the action thriller aspect of whether or not they can be brought down.
The faith elements are more naturally intertwined, showing a positive evolution in Blackstock’s writing that has continued into the present. It’s still heavy at points, but no longer distracts from the story. Blackstock’s narrative is singular and compelling. The previous books in this series I found easy to put down. This one had me going straight through. While aspects of the plot are still a bit unbelievable, Blackstock coaxed me into suspending disbelief and letting the story play out. It still has its flaws and is tonally different from the previous books in the series, but it’s a great leap in quality from what came before, reading more like a modern Blackstock novel.