Ashes of Aries by Martha C Lawrence

In Martha C. Lawrence's fifth Elizabeth Chase novel, "Ashes of Aries", our favorite San Diego psychic private investigator is called in to assist in finding the kidnapped son of a local telecommunications executive, a man who turned his company Starcomm into a multi- Million dollar industry.

During her meeting with the missing boy's parents, which takes place shortly after being handed the case, Elizabeth smells smoke. A quick search of the huge place reveals nothing amiss. She does not realize it until after that the smell of smoke was a premonition. Later that day, the whole neighborhood goes up in flames, killing the Starcomm exec and his wife, who became trapped in their car inside their complex by closed iron gates. The fire knocked out power in the area and the gates' controls did not work, blocking the unfortunate couple's escape.

Chase's parents' house is nearby. In her panic to see if her parents and house are safe, Elizabeth ventures into the flames. She encounters a firefighter named Zev, from who she feels strange vibes that she can not explain.

At the same time, she meets Randy Twain, a television reporter, who had tried to interview her at the executive's house that morning. His photographer was filming the blaze and is now stranded, seeking evacuation. Elizabeth agrees to help Twain's photographer if Zev will give them permission to enter the fire zone, which he does with great reluctance.

They rescue the photographer Jane but the three of them barely make it out of the fire zone alive. Although she does not get to find her parents, she soon finds them alive and well at near nearby Red Cross station, unhurt, much to her relief. A television at the station is broadcasting live reports from a news helicopter and she sees her parents' house, still standing and undamaged. She also sees a news clip of the burning car in which the Starcomm exec and his wife perished.

Her psychic power warns her that the fire was no accident and the exec was the intended victim. Arson investigators find proof that shows she was right. Now, it's a murder investigation.

Elizabeth continues to receive images of Scooby-Doo, a favorite of the kidnapped child, and concludes that he is still alive. Unfortunately, she can not shake Twain, the reporter, who has discovered who she is and has correctly speculated her role in the investigation.

Soon there is another suspicious fire, which destroys part of the Starcomm building and a nearby apartment complex. After the blaze has been extinguished, Elizabeth's power leads her to a fireproof safe in the burn zone, which contains a note threatening more fires. Unfortunately, it does not reveal any more clues to the kidnapped boy.

The tone of the letter leads Elizabeth to believe that radical environmentalists may be behind the fires to protest Starcomm's urban assault on the landscape. But kidnapping is not their forte.

A third fire breaks out. This time the firefighter Zev dies from burns he received when his fire truck was overrun by the inferno. Chase realizes then that the weird vibes she received from him were premonitions of his death, instead of any involvement in the kidnapping and arson.

Getting more anxious than ever to find the boy and convinced he is still alive, Elizabeth uses her powers and some good ol 'footwork to locate a house where she knows the boy is. Detectives are called in to the search the house, but it takes Elizabeth's clairsentience and her Rhodesian Ridgeback's nose to find the boy, well-hidden in a crawlspace behind a closet.

The house belongs to a disgruntled employee who blames Starcomm and its executive for the death of her father. Unfortunately, she is not home at the moment.

In a rare instance of talking to a stranger, the rescued boy gives Elizabeth a clue to his kidnapper's whereabouts.

She is going to burn down Elizabeth's house.

A close watch is kept on Chase's place while she evacates to her parents' home. Too late doest Elizabeth realize that the arsonist does not know she has a separate address from her parents' house, which is actually the intended target.

Elizabeth sees a fire in a shed behind the house, getting dangerously close to a propane tank. As she attempts to battle the flame, the arsonist attacks her, knocking her unconscious and tying her up. Elizabeth is about to become PI flambé but her mother intervenes, saving Elizabeth and the family home from fiery destruction.

Although this is Lawrence's fifth novel, it is only the second one I've read. I started with her fourth, "Pisces Rising" after finding it in a bookstore and was intrigued by its promise. I was hooked. Before I finished "Ashes of Aries" I had purchased her first three novels on-line.

"Aries" appears to have Chase relying on her powers more and applying them to her case more so than in "Pisces". Of course, in "Pisces" Elizabeth was investigating a murder, whereas here, she was trying to locate a missing child.

When Elizabeth applies an ability known as 'remote viewing' to locate the kidnapped boy, Lawrence clearly makes her own knowledge and opinion of the government's project to study this talent known. That the government now denies such research does not deter Ms. Lawrence from discussing aspects of the program.

When Lawrence's Chase receives premonitions, she does not try to explain them if she does not understand them herself. This is what sets Elizabeth far above other 'psychic detectives' who are shams. Appropriately, Elizabeth has been perceived as such, but has grown thick skin.

My favorite part was how Elizabeth finally tracked down the boy. She had a vision that included a trail, a white picket fence and a K-Mart. She hopped in her truck and scoped out each K-Mart in the San Diego area until she found the area and subsequently the house and boy.

I like Elizabeth's boldness and confidence in her powers. Anyone who applies them to private auditing would have to be, but Lawrence libraries her without cockiness or arrogance. She is a girl who has a job to do and she does it well while caring for her dog and cat and parents.

I also like Elizabeth's shaman instructor, the mysterious Sequoia, who's powers surpass her but training her to better her powers and how to use them.

Because of these aspects of the two novels I have read, Elizabeth Chase has become a source of inspiration for me and the psionic detectives that I have developed, since they possess similar abilities. However, Ms. Lawrence has an intense advantage over me in that she has fashioned her books based upon her own psychic experiences. I have had no such experiences, so the events and powers that my officers encounter are purely my own wild imagination.

In "Aries", Lawrence pulls Chase into the supernatural realm, while visiting the reporter Twain's house. Elizabeth has an uneasy feeling upon entering his home and he explains that people have thought it to be haunted. She soon has a vision of a body in a bathtub, tells him his house is definitely haunted and bolts. My experience with the supernatural is much more limited that with the psychic phenomenon.

I may not be qualified to write for either genre, but I find the psychic or paranormal fascinating and will continue to write; Agent, publisher or no.

In the meantime, I will continue to follow the beautiful Lawrence's work.

"Ashes of Aries" is a great read!