Crown Fire – David Annandale

A crown fire is a specific type of wildfire where it’s specifically material at the canopy level that burns, such as tall trees or vines. It’s an apt name for David Annandale’s first Jen Blaylock novel, the focus of which is Blaylock’s pursuit of those at the top of the corporate tree responsible for the deaths of her family.

The two main protagonists are Blaylock herself, ex-military, single-mindedly out to gain revenge for her murdered family, and Mike Flanagan, hapless New York financier who’s just looking for his big break so he can live the easy life happily ever after. Caught up in the deadly game between Blaylock and the vast multinational InSec corporation, global arms dealer masquerading behind a veneer of respectability, Flanagan is an unwitting pawn used by both sides and forced to make difficult decisions in order to survive.

At heart it’s a simple revenge story with an everyman stuck between the evil corporation and the driven, resourceful and powerful action hero. So far, so 80s/90s action film. Before long however, Blaylock’s forced to reconsider her plans as she begins to see the scale of what she’s up against, and we realise that InSec is much worse than just the big bad capitalist bully.

Much of the story is written from Flanagan’s perspective and we get a real feel for how far out of his depth he is. Blaylock provides the drive and muscle for the story, but Flanagan is the heart, and as it progresses we see him becoming the conscience as well. Blaylock has to keep her conscience banked down, overshadowed and sidelined by her iron-hard resolve and determination to see things through. Flanagan doesn’t have that, so instead he has to cope by trying to understand what’s happening, what he’s got himself into and what the consequences might be.

Annandale’s writing keeps things moving quickly but the pace doesn’t come at the expense of character or plot; like all good thrillers it’s tightly plotted, with just enough of the bigger picture building up scene by scene to keep the us engaged and hankering for more. We get a great balance of action and intrigue, and for every scene where Blaylock gets to kick ass we get another full of industrial espionage or backstage global politics.

Interestingly, despite being over ten years old nothing feels noticeably dated, in fact the whole thing feels fresh and completely relevant. In a post-Bourne age of modern action realism, the cinematic nature of this would make it ideal source material for Hollywood, as long as the bigwigs could stomach some of the points it makes about justification and consequences. To be fair, anti-heroes are all the rage these days. Whether she makes it onto the screens or not though is largely irrelevant, as Jen Blaylock is a whole lot of fun as she is, and with two more instalments there’s sure to be plenty more action to come.

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