In Green’s water-soaked debut thriller, an investigation into a dam explosion that killed three people in a small Kentucky town ends up revealing as much about the town as the culprits responsible.
At the forefront of activities is Sheriff Sam Johnson Jr., who is not pleased when his investigation is taken over by the FBI. Though he proves useful to the feds, Johnson is nonetheless pushed to the back burner of the operation, where he teams up with Joseph Hamiz. Originally identified as a suspect due to his knowledge of dam engineering and his foreign nationality, Hamiz ends up playing a vital role in the investigation. Without Hamiz, for example, there would be little hope of navigating the maze of lies leading to more explosions and a charismatic suspect with a hatred for the government and an understanding of the deadly capabilities of water. Initially, the clichéd local-government–versus-federal-government tension is enough to turn readers against both. Predictably, Johnson’s local knowledge proves much more valuable to federal agents than their expensive electronic devices. The idea that dams are targeted as a weapon of mass destruction is intriguing; the novel elucidates the targeting of these structures and the difficulty authorities have in protecting them in spot-on prose that doesn’t include too many dull technicalities. More specificity, however, may have been welcome if it were to replace the overabundance of adverbs clouding the narrative, as in “Travis lazily opened his eyes and then proceeded to sit groggily on the edge of the couch.” The dialogue is just as draining, as characters explain things that are already obvious and as tedious to read as they must be to say; one character scrambles to clean up a room, exclaiming, “You don’t need to holler at me, honey. Oh, shit. This place is not ready. Well, he’ll have to make do with things the way they are.” Sentences such as these slow the pace of what ultimately proves to be an inventive plot and surprising conclusion.
Beyond a minefield of cop clichés, adverbs and stilted dialogue lies a compelling thriller.