Hotting up

In the following passage from Jonathan Gash's novel, The Judas Pair (Arrow Books), antiques dealer and amateur sleuth Lovejoy finds himself in mortal danger, when the villain sets fire to the thatched roof of his cottage.

Then I smelled smoke.

The shushing sound was the pooled noise of a million crackles. My thatched roof had been fired, probably by means of a lighted arrow.

At this point, Lovejoy panics but his sense of self-preservation swings into action and he makes a rapid analysis of his situation:

I had to think. Smoke was beginning to drift in ominous columns vertically downwards. Reflected firelight from each window showed me more of the living-room than I'd seen for some time. I was going to choke to death before finally the flames got me. The beams would set alight, the walls would catch fire and the fire would extend downwards until the entire cottage was ablaze.

Lovejoy realises that his only hope is to bury himself in a priest's hole under the flagstone floor but he is unprepared for the conditions he encounters:

The air entering my lungs was already searingly hot. From above my head came frantic gushing sounds, creakings and occasional ponderous crashes which terrified me more than anything. The walls would be burning now and the beams would be tumbling through the living-room ceiling. Twice I heard loud reports as the glass windows went. It must be an inferno. I was worn out and dying from heat. Too clever by far, I'd got myself in the reverse of the usual position. I was safe from smoke and being cooked in an oven. If only I could bring air in.

I forced myself to think as the blaze above my head reached a crescendo. What could make air move?

All through the passage, Lovejoy is reacting to his surroundings and the rising temperature. He is faced with a race against time and in order to convey this, the author flicks back and forth between the raging inferno above Lovejoy's head and the extreme heat of his confined conditions in the priest's hole under the floor. This keeps the pace moving extremely quickly, pulling the reader along so that they, too, can feel the heat, smell the smoke and sense the terror Lovejoy is experiencing.

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