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Up in FlamesReview - Up in Flames
A John and Mary Bolt Mystery
by Linda S. Bingham
Double SS Press, 1998
Review by Su Terry
Nov 18th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 47)

Up in Flames: A John and Mary Bolt Mystery by Linda S. Bingham is the first book about an arson investigator and his lady love. In this book, the series opener, the sparks of romance blaze between John and Mary while Charlotte, Mary's best friend, has her relationship turn to ashes. The only question is who fueled the fire that killed Charlotte's beau with gasoline?

Up in Flames is set on the small and picturesque campus of Bristol State College, located somewhere outside of Boston, MA. John Bolt, an arson expert from an insurance company in Houston, has been called in by Jake Colpitts, the mayor of Bristol Falls. The town has been plagued by an arsonist who has already burned down 14 buildings. Unfortunately, the last fire proved to be too close to home for Colpitts. When the mayor's barn was set ablaze, his 12-year old son ran into the barn to save his horse. Now the child lay in critical condition in the hospital. Junie Arnold, a burnt out former hippie is suspected to be the arsonist, but he has vanished. Meanwhile Mary Yates, an actress with the San Francisco Deaf Players (stage name Alyssa Henry) is on campus to give a workshop and to comfort her old friend Charlotte Kennard. Charlotte's world is falling apart. She gave an ultimatum to her long time infatuation, Dr. Samuel Adam Kize, the president of the College, to leave his wife or else. Sadly, Dr. Kize opted for the "or else" and his invalid wife. Charlotte must now face the possibility of losing her position as Director of Institutional Research for the College. Meanwhile the campus is split apart by an offer from a major hotel chain that wants to purchase the quaint College Inn, currently run by the College's culinary school, in order to build a modernistic hotel. Hugh Bayslay, the Chief Financial Officer and Laurie Rayster, the College's lawyer, support the sale on financial grounds, but Charlote, Dr. Kize, and Len Nash, the Vice-President of Academic Affairs, are opposed to the sale on historic principles. A Board of Director's meeting is convened for Founders' Day at the Inn. Everyone expects heads will roll, but no one is quite sure whose. John suspects the crowded Inn on Founders' Day might be the arsonist's next target and takes every precaution to protect the invited guests and the historic building. The plot reaches fever pitch as "town and gown" converge at the quaint College Inn for the festive occasion. Surprizing everyone but Bolt, the hot topic of the evening is not the Inn's sale, but the Inn's destruction and the charred bodies of Dr. Kize and the Inn's baker found in the Inn's basement. The discovery of the three-day old body of Junie Arnold adds a new twist to who and why the Inn was set ablaze.

Bristol Falls and Bristol State College is hardly the quiet, sleepy New England College town. Rather it is a hotbed of scandal. Illicit sex and illegal drugs are the ante in Bristol's game of greed and politics. The novel hosts a cast of sleazy characters to rival any big city, including meddling wives, ambitious students, cut-throat corporate raiders, and a few less than scrupulous drug dealers, pimps, and all-around nasty criminals. Like many small towns, this one has few real secrets. The pretense of secrecy is based on mutually knowing nods and diverted eyes. John and Mary, the outsiders do not know the unwritten social protocols and wind up airing much of the town's dirty laundry. Fire is the perfect symbol for the passions that are slowly destroying this picture perfect "Peyton Place". The reader may feel it is safer to flunk out of gold ol' Bristol State or be run out of Bristol Falls on a rail rather than to live there.

Linda S. Bingham brings a diverse background to her writing. She was an English teacher, a building manager for a skyscraper, and worked on the campaign to elect Houston's first woman mayor (who just happens to also be her sister-in-law). She is the founder of the Texas Coalition of Authors. In 1997, she won the Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction. She was inspired to write the John and Mary Bolt series after sitting on a jury and based on her husband's experience as an insurance investigator. Her novels include three mysteries in the John and Mary Bolt series: Up in Flames (1998); Flashpoint (2000); and the soon to be released: Who's Burning Paloma Blanca? (Dec 2004). She has also published: Born on an Island (2000); All Roads Lead Home (2003); and What the Librarian Heard (2003). Bingham lives with her husband on a range in Texas. For more information on Linda S. Bingham, please visit her website at -

Up in Flames: A John and Mary Bolt Mystery by Linda S. Bingham is a "cozy" mystery. It is short on blood, gluts, and gore, but big on romance and tears. It is a light mystery that would make a wonderful beach book on a "hot" summer day.

2004 Su Terry

 Su Terry: Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY.


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