No Santa , no elves, no shopping malls or presents, nothing that resembles a Christmas card holiday, but still, A SPARK OF HEAVENLY FIRE — especially Kate’s story — embodies the essence of Christmas: generosity of spirit.
Kate isn’t the only point of view character in the book — the story is told by four different characters who show four different ways of dealing with the horror of the red death that descends on Colorado right before Christmas. Kate is the spark of heavenly fire, the woman who blazes with generosity during this dark hour of adversity. Two of the other characters are the opposite — they do everything they can to ensure that they survive. And then there is Greg, a reporter, who is consumed with finding the truth of the red death.
I’ve always liked the following scene, which takes place between Greg and Olaf, his boss:
“How’s the research coming, Greg?” Olaf asked, a shade too heartilty.
“I feel as if I’m drowning in paper.”
“So I see,” Olaf said, laying a hand on the stack of Takamura’s articles. “Mind if I look?”
“Help yourself. They belong to the newspaper.”
Olaf settled himself in his customary chair with a handful of the papers. A minute later, he raised his head.
“How do these guys get anything printed? If my reporters turned in work as incomprehensible as this, they’d be out of here so fast they’d think they were flying.” He glanced at the papers and shook his head. “Even the titles are incomprehensible. ‘Imitating Organic Morphology in Micro-fabrication.’ I don’t even know what that means.”
“Me neither,” Greg said, thinking if he had to wade through this sort of stuff to learn about the red death, the earth would fall into the sun long before he read half of it. He put his hands together as if in prayer. “Please tell me it’s not written by John Takamura.”
“It isn’t. Doris Stefano, Melanie Levy, Andrew Forbes, and Lee Nishimura collaborated on this particular gem.”
Good. That meant he had to scan it for Takamura’s name instead of reading the entire thing.
“These two are by Takamura. ‘Self-Dispersement of Genetically Enhanced Corn,’ ‘Deviant Behavior in Recombinant Plant Parasitoids.’” He tossed the sheaf of papers back onto Greg’s desk. “Better you than me.”
“What do these guys do?” Greg asked. “Take a course in obfuscation?”
“Probably. Convoluted writing and obscure terms are a way of intimidating the uninitiated, keeping the profession closed to non-scientists, and adding to the scientific mystique. Just think, if diseases had names like Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, doctors wouldn’t make anywhere near the amount of money they do now.”
Greg laughed. “That’s an idea. They do it for hurricanes, why not everything else?” He mimed seizing the phone and dialing. “Mr. Olaf? I can’t come in today. I’ve got the Bob.” He hung up his imaginary receiver and looked inquiringly at his boss.
Olaf nodded. “Works for me.”
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Unfinished, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.