“Personal drama handled, my heart found its regular pace, and I shoved the phone back into my bag. I muttered another “thank you,” then jammed up the hill, following a dank river of water and ashes that would end in blood.” (Skies of Ash, Rachel Howzell Hall, Chapter Two, Page 20)
It is almost mid-December and six months after Land of Shadows when Detective Elouise “Lou” Norton is called out to a house fire in Baldwin Hills. There are bodies in what is left of the house ravaged by a horrific fire most likely caused by an arsonist. As it happens, the scene is a short three miles away from her home. While she has directions, she could have just followed the smoke plume over the area.
Much of the house at 6381 Don Mateo Drive is gone. What remains and still barely stands hides the bodies of Juliet Chatman and her kids, Chloe and Cody. All three were found dead. The smoke got to them before the flames worked their way to them. But, there are troubling aspects that indicate Juliet Chatman knew they were in serious danger. One is the fact that while she clearly was holding on to her daughter, Juliet Chatman died while clutching a gun in the other. Then there is the 911 call Juliet made where she said somebody was trying to kill her. The name of that person is not discernable on the tape.
Clearly, person or persons unknown, did kill the mom and her kids. Somebody did it. While law enforcement always starts from the proposition that the spouse did it in this case that initially seems unlikely. Christopher Chatman, a commodities broker, arrived as the fire was blazing and was injured fighting firefighters in attempt to go into the inferno after his family. His alibi for why he was not home stands up to scrutiny.
If he didn’t do it, then who did? And why are the neighbors being so weird about the Chatmans? Two of the many questions for Detective Norton and her partner Colin Taggert to answer in Skies of Ash.
Often the second book in a series is weaker than the first. That is certainly not remotely the case here. Skies of Ash builds on Land of Shadows and adds further depth to the Norton character as well as most of the other characters.
Like a lot of really good series, this second book continues everything regarding personal relationships while offering a brand new intriguing case to solve. Such is the case here with what is definitely a horrific tragedy in the deaths of two children as well as their mother. Author Rachel Howzell Hall does not focus on the gruesome details of what happens to a body in a fire and instead keeps the focus on the reason why things like this happen.
Skies of Ash is a very good book. Interested potential readers are strongly encouraged to read Land of Shadows as major plot points from the first book carry over here amongst the new case and that investigation. There are a lot of things going on in this second book that tie directly into the first making both books well worth your time and effort. Good stuff and very much recommended.
Skies of Ash
Rachel Howzell Hall
Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
Hardback (also available in paperback and digital formats)
Material supplied by the good folks of the Dallas Public Library System.
Kevin R. Tipple © 2018