Famed consumer advocate and environmental activist AJ Palladino goes over to the other side by taking big money to promote a nuclear power plant in South Carolina. Meanwhile, back home in West Virginia, the evil father of her deceased lover Cole conducts a murderous campaign to gain custody of her disabled 9-year-old son David.
Brockovich, subject of the Julia Roberts movie about a contaminated water case that led to a record $333 million settlement, made her debut as a novelist with Rock Bottom (2010), which focused on coal mining. AJ, now teamed with lawyer Elizabeth Hardy, agrees to work for the Colleton Landing plant because it's designed to be super-safe (boasting "an outer concrete chamber strong enough to withstand a direct hit by a 747")—and because $1 million will enable her to care for David, who has cerebral palsy. David, whom she had when she was 17 and single, also is dealing with his father's untimely death. An attempt on his blind grandmother's life doesn't help his state of mind. Though recent events in Japan give Hot Water a buzzworthy timeliness, the controversy over nuclear power is writ rather small in these pages. The alternating plots, which at one point have AJ contending with a nasty hurricane at the nuclear plant and David and his sheriff buddy Ty speeding after a hit man, are given equal weight. And the pedestrian writing drags the novel down further. Brockovich, who wrote this book and its predecessor with Lyons, surrounds her chatty, syntax-challenged heroine ("After nearly drowning after a car accident ten years ago, water and I haven't exactly been on speaking terms") with cardboard characters. The narrator is right in saying coal baron Kyle Masterson isn't complicated like a movie villain. A little of that complication would have gone a long way.
A flat thriller that succeeds in draining the drama from its endangered nuclear plant plot.