Joe Finder’s excellent novel about the family that started the opioid epidemic

House on Fire is about the opioid epidemic.

If you’re looking for a complex tale about industrial espionage, read no further. In House on Fire, the latest from bestselling Boston author Joseph Finder, you’ll learn about the opioid epidemic, private Israeli security, the Westchester Kennel Dog Show, and white collar crime on Wall Street. You’ll also take a look into a family dynamic that looks a lot like the internecine carnage displayed in a billionaire’s clan in HBO’s drama Succession. Leave it to Joe Finder to cram all this into fewer than 400 pages! But take it from me, you won’t be disappointed.

Heller is a former Special Forces soldier who has left the military to open a private security firm specializing in cases involving industrial espionage. So he is far from surprised when a daughter of the founder of Kimball Pharma comes to him, asking that he burgle her father’s home to discover a long-suppressed lab report. What is surprising is why.


House on Fire (Nick Heller #4) by Joseph Finder (2020) 381 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)


Exploring the roots of the opioid epidemic

Kimball Pharma, it turns out, is the stand-in for Purdue Pharma, and the many Kimballs who turn up in the story represent the extended Sackler family (even though Finder goes out of his way to deny the analogy). And, yes, Purdue Pharma is widely viewed as a primary culprit in the opioid epidemic which has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

However, what is surprising is that Susan Kimball, the daughter, tells Heller she wants him to turn up a report, long buried by her father, that proved their cash cow, Oxydone, was highly addictive and should never have been prescribed except in the most extreme cases. Clearly, given the evidence in that report, the opioid epidemic was inevitable. And Susan Kimball seems determined to undermine, and possibly destroy, the family empire.

What is further surprising is that Kimball, who calls herself Sukie, has turned up at a funeral of one of Heller’s best friends from the military, a man who saved his life in combat. The man has just died of an Oxydone overdose, thereby introducing a powerful personal motive for Heller to take the case.

In the dangerous investigation that follows, Sukie introduces Heller as her date at her father’s eightieth birthday party. There, with the whole family gathered, he finds himself in a situation a little reminiscent of an Agatha Christie whodunit when another old friend of his from the military turns up dead. In Finder’s account of the family dynamics and of Heller’s fraught investigation, the suspense never stops. This is a deeply satisfying and most timely thriller.

For additional reading

House on Fire is the fourth of Finder’s Nick Heller novels. He has also published fourteen standalone novels. This is the twelfth of those eighteen novels that I’ve reviewed here. Among them are High Crimes (A taut thriller about Special Forces running amok in El Salvador in 1983) and Buried Secrets (A thriller that explores the intersection of high finance and high crime).

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