Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Crime

Book Review: Trial by Fire by Scott James

Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for the finished copy of Trial by Fire in exchange for an honest review and feature!  All opinions are my own!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Trial by Fire
  • Author: Scott James
  • Genre: Nonfiction, true crime
  • Publisher & Release: Thomas Dunne Books, October 2020
  • Length: 384 Pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for those interested!

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

In only 90 seconds, a fire in the Station nightclub killed 100 people and injured hundreds more. It would take nearly 20 years to find out why—and who was really at fault.

All it took for a hundred people to die during a show by the hair metal band Great White was a sudden burst from two giant sparklers that ignited the acoustical foam lining the Station nightclub. But who was at fault? And who would pay? This being Rhode Island, the two questions wouldn’t necessarily have the same answer.

Within 24 hours the governor of Rhode Island and the local police commissioner were calling for criminal charges, although the investigation had barely begun, no real evidence had been gathered, and many of the victims hadn’t been identified. Though many parties could be held responsible, fingers pointed quickly at the two brothers who owned the club. But were they really to blame? Bestselling author and three-time Emmy Award-winning reporter Scott James investigates all the central figures, including the band’s manager and lead singer, the fire inspector, the maker of the acoustical foam, as well as the brothers. Drawing on firsthand accounts, interviews with many involved, and court documents, James explores the rush to judgment about what happened that left the victims and their families, whose stories he also tells, desperate for justice.

Trial By Fire is the heart-wrenching story of the fire’s aftermath because while the fire, one of America’s deadliest, lasted fewer than two minutes, the search for the truth would take twenty years.

I hadn’t heard of this tragedy but after a quick Google search (not recommended video viewing for the faint of heart) I became quickly interested. A reporter live at the scene, ironically there for a feature on safety, caught video of this rapidly unfolding horror show that created a mystery for years to come. This is an extremely readable and fast moving book for a nonfiction!

In Trial by Fire, Scott James looks at everyone’s side of the story. From the club owners to the club and band managers, the fire marshall, the foam company that sold the wrong insulation to the club owners, plus survivors, families of the deceased, and more, I feel like a really wide and unbiased portrayal of events was covered here. James even brings in Rhode Island history and legal precedents to set the scene for encountered attitudes and court proceedings. I appreciated the full disclosure elements too.

I think the most interesting part for me was how the media was so biased, and totally seems to have f**ked up a lot of the coverage and facts. The governor tried to clamp down on false information and the club owners tried to stay out of the crap slinging, but there is a really huge issue with bad media coverage and people rushing to believe it. I did learn a lot about how media works though. Another interesting part was … Well… I’m a nurse and love medical bits. I was morbidly fascinated while reading about people’s skin melting off as they tried to be pulled to safety, toxic smoke inhalation, flash points, and triage. Also the hospital coverage and burn treatments, especially the pulmonary advancements were super interesting to me. Thinking about this from a first responder perspective is truly horrifying. I can’t even imagine being inside or outside and just hearing all the screams stop, it’s too terrible to process fully 😳

I learned a ton about everything from fire in general to safety codes, history, the legal system, and human nature by reading this book. I really highly recommend for anyone interested in true crime or investigative journalism type reads. Also there is a huge humanitarian aspect to the book and personal stories of many survivors and victims, if you enjoy a bittersweet success story.

Thank you again so much to St Martin’s Press (Sara thank you!) for my copy, all opinions are my own!

If anyone has read this and/or wants to discuss it, feel free to leave a comment! Thanks for reading!