It seems like an accident: A 1930 Duesenberg Arlington Sedan, worth more than $2 million, goes up in flames with media tycoon Stanfield Standish inside. Is Standish the innocent victim of a fire caused by a mechanical defect? And is the Courtland Motor Company, the firm that restored the antique car, at fault? Standish's relatives think they know the answer. They've filed for $52 million in damages.
But they don't figure on attorney Max Bramble, a young man with old-fashioned values. He actually believes in the truth and will go to almost any extreme to discover it. As lawyer for the car company, he's not at all sure that Stanfield Standish's death was an accident. Standish created an international cable television network and had great power, but not many friends. Any one of a number of colleagues -- or even family -- could have killed him.
For some insights into both fire and human nature, Max seeks out retired New York City fire marshal Wylie Nolan. A crackerjack arson investigator and licensed private detective, Wylie is also wise and full of surprises. As Wylie soon teaches Max, "There is no such thing as a 'natural' fire. Death at the end of long life is supposed to happen. Fire is never supposed to occur..."
Did Stanfield Standish die, as his family suggests, as a result of flame impingement? Or was he murdered and then set on fire in his beautifully restored Duesenberg to obliterate evidence of the homicide? The answer lies in burn patterns. The answer lies in the fire's origin and cause.
With Wylie and Max -- two of the most appealing new teams to come along in years -- we learn to dig through char, to observe the path and pattern of a fire, and to treat all fire fatalities as possible homicides.
Dramatic, poignant, and filled with intriguing forensic details, Origin and Cause confirms the storytelling power of a superbly gifted crime writer.