A group of radical scientists concerned with overpopulation take matters into their own hands in this debut novel.
Magazine writer Chloe Freestaff is nearing the end of her 18-month volunteer position in Kenya with nonprofit organization Free the Animals when she finds hundreds of dead bodies stacked up in piles in Kenya’s Mwenga national game reserve, all apparently shot elsewhere and transported to the site. The mystery remains unsolved when she returns to her old life in New York City, where she reluctantly gets a job writing for Could Be True, a tabloid magazine reporting sensationalized oddities. On a work trip in California, she comes across a magazine article on overpopulation by Herbert Puckett of the University of California, Riverside. The article begins by describing the negative effects of overpopulation and then turns sinister: “Is it time we culled our own herd?” He and the rest of the Population Office for the World are responsible for an airborne toxin, which they release from an airplane over San Ignacio in the California desert, killing thousands. Chloe vows to stop the group, but ends up their hostage. At its root, this story is a cautionary tale; the Population Office’s motto is “the few” must die to benefit “the many,” and in the end, this happens—just not in the way the evildoers meant it. Etzkorn’s fast-paced story offers multiple perspectives, such as that of Earl Schuller, the lone survivor of the San Ignacio attack, and Lavinia Royal, a member of the Population Office who has trouble with her mission. The author also excels in his clear, vivid descriptions, especially of the painful effects of the toxin. However, the character’s white-savior attitude toward Kenya at the book’s beginning is problematic: “She’d done what she could to help save the wildlife. Now she had to save people…. Someone had to work to bring sanity back into the world.”
A briskly paced scientific thriller whose main character could benefit from more racial awareness.