August 13, 2001
Henderson has steadily built a name for herself with the O'Malley series, and this fourth installment delivers a familiar tale of Christian redemption set against a suspenseful backdrop and sprinkled with loving family ties. The book may win some new readers; one of the most innovative elements of the series is that because every book focuses on a different member of the large O'Malley clan, each novel works reasonably well as stand-alone fiction. This one highlights veteran firefighter Jack O'Malley (the "protector" of the title) as he tries to catch an arsonist whose crimes are escalating in severity. As Jack searches for the criminal, he also initiates a relationship with a burn victim, comes to terms with a sister's impending death from cancer and wrestles for the first time with serious questions of faith. The novel is occasionally intriguing: a couple of the theological conversations are insightful and probing, and the behind-the-scenes approach to firefighting is truly interesting. But Henderson's terse, choppy writing style is too heavy on dialogue and short on descriptive narration, to the point of confusing the reader. This style seems more suited to a mystery-of-the-week teleplay than a sustained, character-driven crime novel. The early theological depth is compromised in the concluding pages by simplistic ruminations on the flames of hell that await unbelievers. Although Jack's eventual conversion has been telegraphed from the beginning, it is disappointing that it comes mostly because he wants to avoid yet another fire.