Frannie Hardy is in jail for a secret that she refuses to reveal even before the grand jury. It concerns itself with the affairs of Ron Beaumont, husband of the recently murdered Bree Beaumont - a scientist and environmentalist extraordinaire.
Candidate for the seat of Governer, Damon Kerry; Kerry's campaign manager, Al Valens; vice president of Caloco Oil, James Pierce; head of Fuels Management Consortium, Baxter Thorne; Head of Homicide, Abe Glitsky; District Attorney of San Francisco, Sharron Pratt; a yuppie lawyer, Scott Randall, and Frannie's husband, Dismas Hardy are all drawn closely together in a plot where the stakes are high, the pressure mounts and things spin slowly out of control.
The issue that centers all these people is the allegedly cancer-causing MTBE, a gasoline additive; the production of which is, we discover, a big scam being run by oil companies to rake in profits by the millions. In this novel of forty chapters, the action doesn't really pick up till the twenty-sixth. The story is very detailed and even tiresome at points.
However, Dismas Hardy is well-sketched. He starts out as a typical American - he works hard, earns money and has almost no time for his family. And then a situation arises that forces him to solve a crime where the clues have all dried up, the leads result mostly in dead-ends and the key suspect Ron, is unavailable for questioning. In the space of four days, life as he knows it is overhauled and discarded. The case tries, tests and draws on his physical and emotional reserves as well as his professional acuity. How he operates under duress - that is what makes him an appealing character.
Other than that, the tension is well-orchestrated and the climax is worth having been led through the ins-and-outs of the articulately-explained legal and crime-solving systems of the U.S. of A.This article was first published on 29 May 2000.