FIRST DEGREE BURN was first published by Berkley-Penguin in July, 1997. The first printing was 55,000 copies. Two months later, the book had sold so well it ranked No. 35 on The Ingram A-List—The Top 50 Requested Titles in Mystery/Detective Fiction.
The A-List, compiled by the nation’s largest wholesaler of books, was a true bestsellers list of the top authors in the genre from Agatha Christie, John Grisham, Robert B. Parker and James Lee Burke, to Patricia Cornwell, Stuart Woods, Lisa Scottoline, Donald Westlake, Faye Kellerman and Tony Hillerman.
In fact, without any promotion from the publisher, beyond the mailing of galley proofs to reviewers, “First Degree Burn” succeeded in ranking right behind the trade paperback edition of James Ellroy’s extraordinary mystery “L.A. Confidential,” the week the film adaptation of his New York Times bestseller hit theaters.My film-noir thriller tracing the exploits of FDNY fire marshal Eddie Burke even got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, a rare feat for a paperback original.
But the warmest reception I got came from Dennis Smith, the legendary FDNY firefighter and founder of Firehouse Magazine who wrote the extraordinary memoir “Report From Engine Co. 82;” a chronicle of his years at the busiest firehouse in the world. I met Dennis at a book-signing in Baltimore, marking the publication of his iconic bestseller’s 25th anniversary edition and he gave me a copy, signing it, “Welcome to the fold of the Maltese Cross.”
At a retail price of $5.99 and with the sell out of the entire first edition, my publisher stood to gross more than $329,000. In return, I was paid an advance of $8,000. But as paltry as that sum appeared in comparison to the book’s potential profits, it didn’t matter to me. At the time, I was thrilled to have my first book in print, and as I traveled to bookstores signing copies, I was honored to be celebrating the fire service.
In fact, having signed more than a few books for veteran smoke eaters who still carried burn scars, I decided to try and raise some money for the FDNY.
In the fall of 1997 I arranged with the Department to hold a book signing and reading at the Fire Museum in Soho and it was there that I met Ronnie Bucca, the man who would inspire my first HarperCollins investigative book, “1000 Years for Revenge.”
I remember signing his copy of First Degree Burn, “This is fiction. You’re the real thing” and truer words could not have been written, because on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Ronnie, an ex-Green Beret paratrooper and veteran of Rescue One who had broken his back in 1986 but returned to the job, paid the ultimate price.
After years of predicting that terrorists would come back to attack the World Trade Center following the 1993 bombing, he roared down to the Twin Towers from Manhattan Base, located then on Lafayette Street. Even though he wasn’t in a fire suppression company, Ronnie donned his turnout coat and Cairns helmet, strapped on his Scott Air-Pak and made his way up to the fire floor—the 78th story of the South Tower which had been struck by UA Flight 175.
Along with Battalion Chief Oreo Palmer, Ronnie worked his way higher than any other member of service in either Tower that day. And after their extraordinary effort to protect civilians from the flames, they died with their boots on—two of the 343 FDNY heroes to perish on what will be forever known as Black Tuesday. It was an honor to meet Ronnie Bucca and even more of an honor to learn from his family that he’d read and re-read “First Degree Burn.”
There are dog-eared copies of the book, in fact, in firehouses all over the world. And so, as a tribute to The Bravest and to celebrate the remarkable fire marshals of the FDNY’s Bureau of Fire Investigation, this new hardcover edition has come to life.
The BFI’s motto is veritas ex cineribus—truth from the ashes—and it’s my fervent hope that through the eyes of Eddie Burke, readers will again begin to appreciate what these amazing investigators do to keep New York safe. CLICK FOR PROLOGUE-CHAPTER ONE CLICK FOR “Reds vs. Blues”