Canadian Burstyn (The Rites of Men, not reviewed), a public policy consultant, tenders a sharp tale of hydrological reengineering—the theft of water—in a prescient and illuminating thriller.
What starts out as a leisurely piece of ecological skullduggery becomes more and more shivering through the sheer venality of corporate greedsters and governmental egomaniacs and the tactics they use to sate their avarice. It all has to do with water: good old H2O, without which life ceases and which in pure, copious quantities is becoming a rarer commodity day by day. And commodity is the catchword in Burstyn’s cracking tale about privatized water resources for agriculture and industry and a $22-billion-a-year bottled-water industry (unregulated, Burstyn notes in one of his many handy environmental asides, so that the bottled stuff is often no safer or healthier than that from the tap). While Burstyn’s characters may sometimes be cut from stock—the big-hearted detective in “a rumpled polyester suit, and a navy-and-red striped tie with a sizeable stain—ketchup?—right in the middle”; the archvillain who “intended to burn into history a legacy of economic brilliance, power, and control that far surpassed his father’s”—the heroes are an appealing, disparate bunch, friends of the environment, wise to the ways of computer hacking, political chicanery, and industrial malarkey. Burstyn also works a good balance of humor (she has a couple of reporters named Brick and Dorcas, and her Québecois environmental group is named Eau NO), romantic twinning, and dissolution, as well as some nasty murders of oppositionists. The story is also an easy-to-imbibe lesson in the politics of water (a world of hush-hush realpolitik malfeasance) and in the toothlessness of governmental protective measures (“Chapter 11. . . provides the grounds to judge environmental considerations as, quote unquote, impediments to business”). As water pollution has spiked, so has the global rise of water refugees.
A flustering cautionary tale, the first in a trilogy, rolling with intrigue and suspense.