Beneath the Flames


Fiction - Urban
338 Pages
Reviewed on 08/20/2019
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

Fire Captain Gregory Lee Renz was involved in a dramatic rescue of two little boys from their burning basement. He received a series of awards for this rescue, including induction into the Wisconsin Fire and Police Hall of Fame in 2006. When he was asked to share the dramatic rescue at several awards banquets, he was moved by the emotional responses he received and was struck by the power of his storytelling. Gregory has always been an avid reader and thought maybe he could craft a compelling novel if he could learn how to get these stories on the page. Numerous creative writing courses, workshops, and conferences later, he typed The End to this novel, his first, which was inspired by two adorable little girls, around eight and five years of age, who lived across from an inner city firehouse he was stationed at for three years. Those two girls stayed in his thoughts over the years, demanding he tell their story. They are two of the main characters in the novel. He hopes he did them justice. After serving the citizens of Milwaukee for twenty-eight years as a firefighter, Gregory Lee Renz retired to Lake Mills, Wisconsin with his wife, Paula.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Christian Sia for Readers' Favorite

Beneath the Flames by Gregory Lee Renz is a mesmerizing story that brims with life and humanity, a story that explores themes of race, love, family, and an adventure within the firefighting department that evokes hope and personal transformation. Mitch Garner is a young farmer and volunteer firefighter who experiences a tragic event and, driven by guilt, leaves his small town in Wisconsin for Milwaukee, seeking to prove his worth and redeem himself. But new challenges await him, including a challenging firefighting assignment in the heart of a busy and dangerous city. When he meets Jasmine Richardson through the mentoring program where he is assigned to teach her younger sister, a new path opens before him. Follow his story as he navigates a delicate dilemma, torn between moving back home to life with his high school sweetheart or risking his life trying to protect Jasmine from a dangerous gang.

Told in a voice that is strong and filled with compassion, Gregory Lee Renz's story demonstrates characters with depth. They are richly developed and with deep psychological and emotional layers. The internal conflict is so brilliantly handled, reflecting the struggle of the protagonist with guilt and his quest for redemption. The prose is gorgeous and, from the very beginning, the author had me captivated by the wonderful imagery and the lyrical nature of the story. “Mitch Garner had been mowing row after mind-numbing row of hay since early morning…” is one of the phrases that offer insight into the life of the protagonist and this manner of expression deepens the narrative and builds the connection between readers and the characters.

Gregory Lee Renz

Here are a few more reviews for BENEATH THE FLAMES:

Renz draws on his years of experience as a firefighter to bring a hardscrabble authenticity to his novel. He packs the tale with plenty of action and a lot of heart. His firefighting sequences are detailed and thrilling, placing readers right in front of the flames. His prose is clean and, at times, poetic...Kirkus Reviews.


Gregory Renz’s new novel is a triumph of poignancy, compassion, and restraint. In it, a man’s regret is transformed to triumph.—Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of the bestselling novel, The Deep End of the Ocean.


“Renz’s debut novel is exactly the kind of book I want to read right now — one where decency is a virtue, where empathetic people win, and it’s full of the complex, hardworking Midwestern folks I enjoy reading and writing about.”
—J. Ryan Stradal, best-selling author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest and Lager Queen of Minnesota.

In his debut novel, Gregory Lee Renz gives us an action-packed story of a Wisconsin farm boy turned Milwaukee firefighter, but that’s not all. Beneath the Flames lies a tender journey of compassion, redemption, and community that will stick with you for a long time.—Ann Voss Peterson, author of over thirty novels with millions of books in print all over the globe. Winner of the prestigious Daphne du Maurier Award.

BENEATH THE FLAMES is an action-packed debut novel with something for every reader: suspense, romance, friendship, forgiveness, family, and more. A novel that like its protagonist, relentlessly presses on into fiery and controversial terrain where many other writers fear to tread.
—NICKOLAS BUTLER, author of THE HEARTS OF MEN and LITTLE FAITH.

Greg Renz knows firefighting from the inside out, and his heroism got him inducted into the State of Wisconsin Fire and Police Hall of Fame. This novel proves he’s equally wise about the vagabond ways of the human heart, with a storytelling gift that keeps the pages turning.
—Doug Moe, coauthor of “Tommy: My Journey of a Lifetime,” the autobiography of Gov. Tommy G. Thompson.

Gregory Lee Renz’s Beneath The Flames tells a vivid tale of Mitch Garner’s journey from the farm to inner city Milwaukee. A young man caught between the national horror of 9/11 and personal tragedy becomes a firefighter in a neighborhood wracked with poverty and violence.
—Parks Kugle, Managing Editor for Lumina Literary Journal.

Renz’s skill as author is evident in the depth of each character and their dialogue and mannerisms—so much so that we feel as though we’ve met them all in real life. This is a book with serious themes and subjects; suicide, racism, gang violence, domestic abuse, sexual assault, murder and more. But this is also a story about hope, love, and family. Renz handles them all with a brave pen that isn’t squeamish with the tough parts.—Valerie Biel, author of the award winning book series Circle of Nine.

Gregory Lee Renz applies first-hand experience as a decorated firefighter to his searing, emotional debut novel Beneath the Flames. With Renz, you are in the hands of a reliable guide and deft writer as he captures the fraternal bond of this unique band of heroes...On one level, Beneath the Flames contains moving life lessons, sprinkled with messages about friendship, relationships, race and the perils of a dangerous profession. It’s about a personal pursuit of excellence, the obstacles in achieving it, and coming to terms with sometimes falling short. It’s about rooting for the good and having faith in convincing, uplifting characters.—BookTrib Reviews.

This story vividly transports us to the life of firefighters and the harrowing situations they face almost every day. It focuses on one fireman, Mitch Garner, and his growth as a human being. It also gives us a glimpse of life in the inner city. It illustrates the burden of memories that can traumatize an individual, but how facing them one grows and heals. Greg Renz is a masterful storyteller who keeps your attention from the beginning of the story to its end.—Tania Friedman, Retired Administrator, Harvard Medical School.