In this sequel to The Fracking War (2014), a small-town New York newspaper crusades against a thuggish energy company.
After losing his wife, Devon, to a drowning accident, journalist Jack Stafford returns from the island nation of Tonga to Horseheads, New York, with his 3-year-old son, Noah, and sister-in-law Cass. At the Horseheads Clarion newspaper, Jack takes the publishing reins back from editor Eli Gupta in time to dedicate his “Column One” editorials to the unsavory activities of Grand Energy Services. The company wants to store propane and natural gas in the salt caverns of Rockwell Valley, Pennsylvania, and build a pipeline through dairy farm country—with minimal input from the citizens affected most by the activities. Jack and his team of journalists use the paper to educate and warn the people of Rockwell Valley that fracking—which blasts water and various chemicals through shale to dislodge gas deposits—adds toxins to water supplies and increases the likelihood of earthquakes. There’s also the danger of stored gas leaking and exploding. Grand Energy, however, is run like a mob by CEO Luther Burnside. He’s got local politicians and judges in his pocket to smooth the way for his greedy agenda, which calls for shipping most of the gas overseas. Balancing the scales are the supposed eco-terrorists, the Wolverines, and a no-nonsense retired teacher named Alice McCallis. Former reporter Fitzgerald brings the weight of a long career to this series; his latest novel offers readers every angle they could ask for in the war between a small town and a company that would seek to subvert free speech and constitutional rights. Scenes with Jack and his staff are often a crash course in deft reportage, as when Jack warns a writer against skimping on scientific detail: “We are publishing stories and photos and videos about an environmental war that the public is losing,” he says. “I can’t have soldiers who don’t know how to fight.” Jack’s personal drama, including his traumatized son who can’t speak, ends up adding a positive human element to a narrative flush with despicable politics and chaos.
Reads like an emergency manual for activists battling environmental despoliation.