The Fire Fighter, Francis Cottam

The Fire Fighter is about a guy who is good at putting out fires, so good in fact that he gets taken away from the front in Africa, and has to come back to London and protect these five buildings in London, during the Blitz.  He is not best pleased about this as it’s not clear to him what’s so good about these five buildings, and the mysterious Military Intelligence people are extremely vague and un-forthcoming.  He has a painful past, worries about his mother and brother, and falls in love with a German woman who works as a translator for the British (OR DOES SHE?).

I got this at the library without really wanting to, and I only started reading it this one night because I didn’t want to start reading a book that would be totally absorbing and would keep me up late; and once I’d started reading it I wanted to see it through to the end.  Often I will abandon books about which I feel this blah, but I read the end of the book after I’d gotten about twenty pages in (early even for me), and it seemed a singularly unsatisfying ending, and I wanted to read the rest of the book to see if contextual things in the rest of the book would make it better.  They did not however.

It’s not that Francis Cottam is a bad writer, but this is a first novel, and it shows.  There are all these disparate elements – his family life, his Dark Past, his relationship with the military intelligence folks, the buildings he’s protecting, his relationship with Rebecca Lange, the German woman – so many, in fact, that they never really come together.  No one element gets dealt with comprehensively or effectively, and there’s not much there thematically to bind all of them together anyway.  Except a general notion that life is bleak, bleak, bleak.  I should’ve quit reading it when I read the end.  That’s what reading the end is for.  Will I never learn?