Joan Mason and her roommate, Ann, are enjoying a night out in a college-campus bar crammed with students celebrating the end of the school year. While the two women dance, someone slips a drug into their drinks. By the time they reach home they can barely stay awake and quickly head to bed. Milk jugs filled with gasoline set by the assailant turn the house into an inferno. Both women survive, but not without emotional trauma that will upend their lives.
Ten years later, the man convicted of starting the fire – Elijah Weston – is being released from prison and returning to the scene of the crime – Missoula, Montana. Joan, now a Philadelphia homicide detective, knows she must return, too, if she will ever be able to move on. But shortly after she arrives in Missoula, another fire in a beauty parlor kills a woman. Elijah says he has an alibi, but Joan isn’t sure. Was the recent fire sparked by her return? Does the arsonist still have Joan in his sights? And will she be able to escape this time?
Joan still bears burn marks on the palms of her hands, the result of grabbing a hot door handle trying to leave her bedroom during what has been called the college fire. Those physical reminders of the fire, however, serve to spur her on. Not only did she become a homicide detective, but she routinely investigates deaths caused by arson. Her trip back to Missoula, however, is well planned. Going after Avery Newport, who set a fire that killed her roommate, Joan failed to produce enough evidence. And when Avery’s politically-connected father used Joan’s past against her, the charges were dismissed. Avery was released and Joan put on suspension.
Returning to Missoula, Joan must face something else from her past – Gideon Bailey, her former boyfriend who is now a police detective. A widower with a son, Gideon is nursing the emotional scars he suffered after Joan left him. Initially reluctant to have Joan help with the investigation, Gideon soon recognizes her expertise about arson. But he’s troubled when Joan reveals that she’s exchanged letters with Elijah while he was in prison. Joan admits to Gideon that she has doubts about Elijah’s guilt. But if Elijah didn’t set the fire, who did?
There are many suspects and when two more fires are set, Joan and Gideon race against the clock before anyone close to them dies. Mary Burton manages to keep up the heat regarding the crime, but readers may have wishes for a little more heat between Joan and Gideon.
Burn You Twice