With passion and flair, Palin (of Monty Python fame) details a journalist’s quest to discover the truth about a reclusive environmental activist.
Once, London journalist Keith Mabbut was an award-winning crusader, exposing chemical polluters, but now he’s just another hack, working on company vanity projects while mourning his separation from his Polish wife, Krystyna, who’s just announced she wants a divorce (she’s met somebody else). The good news is that a top publisher wants him to do a book on Hamish Melville, the elderly, widely admired environmentalist; the media-averse Melville works below the radar, encouraging native peoples to confront corporate power, so Keith must run him to earth. The publisher, hard-charging Ron Latham, will pay big bucks; he’s chosen the 56-year-old Keith for his integrity. Krystyna’s new beau, a well-connected one-time friend of Melville, gives Keith his first lead: The old boy is in Kalinga, East India. Palin ramps up the suspense as Keith arrives. He finds Melville with surprising ease before the canny agitator disappears. On his trail again, Keith is abducted by some Naxalites (Indian Maoists) who threaten to kill him: It’s Melville who rescues him. Keith slowly gains his trust: Melville is as impressive as he’d hoped but also playful and irreverent. Keith is given a tour of the tribal areas. The indigenous people are threatened by a giant mining company that wants their bauxite. At the heart of the novel is the question: Can they assimilate change without losing their identity? Melville gives his blessing to the book, while limiting future contact. Keith meets his deadline, but Latham is not happy. Where’s Melville’s dark side, the dirt that will sell the book? There’s an old adversary who may have damning evidence against him. The suspense continues as Keith is challenged by new revelations, some concerning the publisher’s sinister corporate parent.
It’s been a long time since Palin’s first novel (Hemingway’s Chair, 1998). The wait for this compelling book has been more than worth it.