Herst uses one of the worst industrial accidents in history as the backdrop for her debut thriller.
The gas leak at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in 1984 killed thousands and injured hundreds of thousands in Bhopal, India. In this novel, army Capt. Shirish Parmar, upon hearing of the disaster, races home to check on his wife and two children. Like many that day, he never finds them, as the dead were buried in mass graves or burned on mass pyres. Flash-forward 30 years. Parmar gathers those who also lost loved ones that day who have banded together seeking justice. He reveals a daring plan that targets the French and British governments: “He and his carefully assembled group of experts would bring world attention to the continuing desperate situation in the region surrounding Bhopal. They would extort enough ransom money from the two governments to rehabilitate the rivers and water table, the land and farms, forests and plains. The toxic cleanup would finally take place, years too late for thousands, but not too late for future generations.” His plot is simple in concept but difficult to implement. A celebration is scheduled to mark the 20th anniversary of the completion of the Channel Tunnel between France and England. The Indian survivors intend to hijack the “Royal Train” carrying the prince of Wales and the French president in the tunnel and hold it for a ransom of 5 billion pounds. Herst skillfully introduces the various players on both sides of this scenario, and while some are fleshed out more than others, it’s clear that there are few villains, except for Big Chemical and the politicians in its pockets. Parmar says: “I’m angry about the pathetic settlement Union Carbide made with our corrupt government. After all the bribes had been paid, little remained for the poor souls locked in the misery of lingering and agonizing death.” Herst paces the action well, detailing the righteous hijackers’ painstaking arrangements and the blissful ignorance of those about to be caught in their trap, leading to the scheme’s execution. In doing so, she has created a suspenseful thriller that also forces readers to reflect on a tragic historical event and its aftermath.
A propulsive, cautionary tale about the effects of the Bhopal disaster.