The Greek island of Vourvoulos has been beset by a series of mysterious fires. It’s gotten so bad that Nick, a Greek-American FBI agent stationed in Athens, goes undercover to the island to get some answers. What he finds is a town rich with local drama, some with roots in an event called the Exchange that occurred generations prior and which led to Greeks living in Turkey and Turks living in Greece to be forcibly removed to their “original” countries. Vassoula, a local bar owner, has been deeply affected by the animosity that grew out of the Exchange. She lost the love of her life due to anti-Turk sentiment and has asked her brother, Takis, to return to Greece to help her run her bar. The problem, for Nick at least, is that Takis is a rather appealing twenty-something and the most likely arson suspect.
But the longer Nick pokes about Vourvoulos questioning locals, the more seedy characters he discovers. There’s a connection to the Russian mafia, a priest who makes counterfeit religious icons, a local Deaf boy who had been abandoned years earlier, and refugees that consume resources made more scarce by the economic hardship in Greece. As much as Nick wants to find solace from some of these issues in Takis’ arms, the circumstantial evidence alone is considerable. When someone attempts to poison Nick, he realizes his time to gather clues and solve the fires is well and truly up.
Fire on the Island is an exciting thriller story with a bit of romantic intrigue. Smith builds a delightful interlocking narrative that has multiple story lines weaving through one another. I feel like the plot unfolds through vignettes and appreciated that, although Nick is ostensibly the main character, he is not necessarily central in every scene. I also enjoyed being privy to details that the characters themselves were not. For example, the crooked priest is never publicly held accountable as a counterfeiter, but Nick and at least one other character discover his dishonest side business. There is also a very sweet side romance involving a girl named Athina and a boy named Ridi. Athina’s mother sees how earnest Ridi loves her daughter and Ridi’s own past comes back to haunt him, both in ways that would potentially turn Athina away from him, but love finds a way, even if the pathway there is bittersweet.
From a thriller perspective, I thought Smith constructed a very sound red herring or two. When the true culprit was revealed, I wasn’t necessarily blindsided, because all the major characters shared the on-page scenes very equitably…and yet I never entertained that specific character as the guilty party. In hindsight, it did seem rather obvious and adds a bit of re-read value to the book, I think. From a romance perspective, I felt the main love story (emphasis on love) was between Athina and Ridi. That said, Nick does get close to Takis and they cultivate their flirtation into a full-fledged affair. The cloud of suspicion over Takis adds to the drama, but because the reader is well aware of Nick being stationed in Athens and Takis is only in Greece for a year to help his sister before returning to Melbourne…well, personally, I thought the way the built-in expiration date on their romance was handled on page felt a bit clinical—less romance and more “fling.”
As a final note, my only real criticism of the book is Nick. Again, I would hesitate to call him the main character; the book truly feels like an ensemble cast deal to me. But he is the common thread that ties the various characters together more closely in this story. This is pure personal preference, but the character came off as a bit condescending towards the residents of Vourvoulos. Nick sort of assumes he needs to mansplain what ISIS is to the mayor of the town and what the FBI is to the Vourvoulos coast guard. All characters should have some sort of flaw, I suppose…it was just a bit, well, disappointing that Nick’s seems to be that he assumes other people are ignorant because they live in small towns.
Overall, this is an exciting summer read…perfect for a lazy, hot day with nothing to do. And, if you’re like me, arranged in a way that makes it easy to read in small chunks without getting lost.