Allie and her friends Louise, Irene and Daisy all work at Dunbar & Jones, one of the country’s most glamorous and sophisticated department stores. Allie’s a salesgirl in the dress department, Louise works in lingerie, Irene is a typist in Accounts, and Daisy makes hats in the workroom out the back.
As they make their plans for the summer of 1953, their friendship is strained when one of the four begins an illicit relationship, and Allie finds herself attracted to Sonny Manaia whose best mate is leader of a notorious motorbike gang.
In the week before Christmas 1953, as the country prepares for a Royal Visit by the young Queen Elizabeth and the store is crammed with wealthy shoppers, smoke is discovered drifting from the basement lift shaft. What happens next will sear the heart of the city, tearing families apart and testing friendship, love and loyalty, opening wounds that will never heal.
Fire is based on the 1947 fire at Christchurch’s Ballantyne’s department store. I wanted to look at how New Zealanders dealt with the aftermath of such an enormous and national tragedy, which they did by grieving sombrely, then squaring their collective shoulders and getting on with it. Not by building shrines out of floral tributes and teddy bears and victims’ photos, and holding candlelight vigils and getting in the grief counsellors. I wanted to show how times have changed. But I ran out of time and in the end really only focused on the fire itself, which I regret slightly.
‘Deborah Challinor has cemented her place as one of New Zealand’s premier historical fiction authors with her latest novel… [Fire] is a delicious, easy-to-devour kind of book that, even with its large doses of heartache and despair that will have you reaching for the tissues, is a delightful read of love and despair, tragedy and triumph – the themes of which will resonate with you even after you have turned the last page.’
Manawatu Standard, May 2007