Strange Fire Book Review
Reviewed by Mary Woodbury
Author: Joel Burcat
Publisher: Headline Books
Publication date: February 2, 2022
Who better to write an ecologically based legal thriller than environmental lawyer Joel Burcat? As with his newest book Strange Fire, two of his previous novels, Drink to Every Beast and Amid Rage, deal with industry pollution and disruption in the wild, such as illegally dumped chemicals and coal strip mine battles. In all three novels, protagonist Mike Jacobs (like Burcat) is an environmental lawyer in Pennsylvania. Jacobs seems to reflect the author’s passion about the state of our delicate and decaying ecosystems. Burcat writes from the heart and from a place of intense knowledge. In his newest book, Strange Fire, he tackles the fracking industry.
Strange Fire has a number of fascinating subplots and characters. It’s a gritty, determined novel that artfully informs the reader about the dangers of fracking and how it poisons water, soil, air, people, and animals because of chemicals used in the hydraulic process. The process of fracking involves drilling into earth to release natural gas. The rock fractures, thus seeping chemicals, used in drilling, into the ground, water, and air. In the rural community of Pennsylvania, people and animals are getting sick and dying, so Jacobs goes up against Yukon Oil and Gas and must contend with corporate players, and their lackeys, out for profit only. The resulting investigation gives the story a fast pace and an interesting plot, the page-turning thriller enhanced by romance and sometimes comedic relief.
A lack of morality isn’t surprising in people who corrupt healthy, natural landscapes, so environmental lawyers deal with crime, manipulation, and dishonesty, all while working toward a healthier planet. At the beginning of each chapter is a saying. One by Bruce Lee is, “If you don’t want to slip up tomorrow, speak the truth today,” which couldn’t have been a more accurate phrase for this novel. Honesty is crucial in the arena of today’s constant misinformation, and authors like Burcat are exposing the wrongs and procuring the rights.
When it comes to revealing the inconvenient truths of today’s climate and ecological changes, novelists who care about the health and survival of all life on our planet are taking to fiction to imagine and create worlds that mirror our own. A well-told story aids in connecting people with their natural environment—an important facet of the literary genre of eco-fiction, which has been making headlines in the past few years. A subset of the genre, the environmental thriller, reflects contemporary realities that perhaps we do not face every day but which are important for us to know about. Burcat’s novels take us there, and I highly recommend it.