The Man Who Loved Christmas is the second in Kathryn Shay’s “America’s Bravest” trilogy. The series’ lead characters work for the fictional Rockford, New York, fire department, loosely patterned after the Rochester Fire Department in upstate New York. The first book, Feel the Heat, featured Francey Cordaro, a line firefighter, a firefighter who works in the firehouse. In this sequel, there is plenty of action, but the setting shifts from the firehouse to the Rockford Fire Academy.
Eight years ago, Dylan O’Rourke and Francey were recruits at the Rockford Fire Academy. They frequently work as partners and are close friends, the primary reason Dylan finds himself walking down the aisle with his nemesis, Beth Winters, as they serve as attendants at Francey’s wedding.
Beth and Dylan have known -- and irritated -- each other since Dylan’s days as a recruit. Beth is an instructor in emergency medical techniques at the academy. She is bothered by Dylan’s forge-ahead-despite-the-rules approach to firefighting. That attitude makes him a hero in the recruits’ eyes, but a dangerous role model in Beth’s view.
Following an official reprimand for some risky behavior, Dylan is assigned temporarily to the academy. When an injury forces Beth’s fellow EMT instructor into early retirement, Dylan takes over his duties. With Beth and Dylan sharing an office and classes, sparks begin to fly.
If you think of all firemen as the “strong, silent type,” Dylan O’Rourke is going to shatter that illusion. He is a charmer, not only of women, but also of his fellow firefighters, children, the elderly and even animals. All except Beth. He nicknames her Lizzie Borden, a tag picked up by the recruits.
Beth is cool and aloof. Her closest friends respect her distance and know little about the series of tragedies two decades earlier which have left her alone. Like Dylan, Beth has conversations with an alter ego -- graveside conversations with her late husband. These moments of inner reflection help her accept Dylan’s attentions, and enable her to take the initial steps toward more natural relationships with him and others.
Kathryn Shay’s years of teaching illuminate The Man Who Loved Christmas. Her research into the world of professional firefighters shows clearly. The outstanding feature of this book is the insight gained into the heads and hearts of recruits in a grueling training program for firefighters.
The overall excellence of this book makes two distractions all the more noticeable. The willowy blond on the cover cannot possibly be the auburn, cropped-haired Beth to whom Dylan is attracted. And, at some point the editing elf fell asleep on the job: back-to-back errors at the end of one chapter and beginning of another.
Though Feel the Heat and The Man Who Loved Christmas have some characters in common, enjoying the second is not dependent on reading the first. The entire class of recruits comprises an appealing cast of secondary characters.
Despite its title, the holiday is not the focus of The Man Who Loved Christmas. And more importantly, one need not celebrate Christmas to understand the pivotal role such a holiday can play in a culture, even in the lives of those who choose to remain removed from the festivities. The Man Who Loved Christmas is on my list of “must-rereads” for the next holiday season. Now I am looking forward to the third story of “America’s Bravest.”