If you take absolutely nothing else from author Felicity Young's Cam Fraser series, then it should serve as a reminder of how important volunteer fire services are in rural communities Australia-wide. Young's background in her local service provides a real-life understanding of the embedded nature of those services, and the affect that they can have on the personal and professional lives of volunteers and their close relationships.
The Cam Fraser series isn't however, just about fire-fighting. It's a police procedural, with a central character who has a personal life, in a small community where the past and present often collide. In the earlier book in this series (FLASHPOINT) we were introduced to Fraser, and his teenage daughter Ruby, after his wife and son were killed in a fire that also injured Fraser. A move from Sydney to the small town of his childhood in Western Australia was supposed to give father and daughter a chance to recover physically and emotionally, but his first case on return left him injured and contemplating resignation.
The discovery of a body in a wool bale in a shearing shed sets off an invesigation which ends up uncovering a long trail of murder, cattle and sheep rustling, and the use of arson as a diversion tactic. It also quickly becomes apparent that there are some pretty ruthless characters behind all these activities and they are not above some nasty goings on in order to protect what's obviously a very lucrative criminal undertaking.
The plot in FLARE-UP is nicely complicated, making sense in a rural area where smaller populations and greater distances mean witnesses are going to be thin on the ground, but people behaving oddly do get noticed. The arson elements blend nicely into the overall community aspects - creating the potential of witnesses, and a lot of threat and concern into the bargain. The competing priorities of policeman Fraser and his fire-fighting teacher girlfriend also contributes some personal tension, giving Young a chance to explore the difficulties of new relationships after traumatic loss - to say nothing of the problems that teenage children can present in that sort of scenario.
Much of the background to everybody comes from the earlier book, although it would be easy for a new reader to step into this series at FLARE-UP without missing out on too much. The interactions between Fraser and the other local cops are great, and the passages between his daughter, girlfriend and himself well executed. The plot is good - with the inclusion of crimes more common in rural areas, than perhaps urban, providing a different viewpoint for readers who should enjoy a series which is both entertaining and realistic.