Water Inc. by Varda Burstyn (Verso). Rating: NNN
Feeling thirsty lately? Then Varda Burstyn's first novel about American business interests highjacking Canadian waters will really work for you.
Burstyn has an almost perfect pedigree for writing an eco thriller like Water, Inc. Her political acumen helps her develop the big picture of a consortium of American companies who will stop at nothing to secure rights to Quebec's water supply. In the meantime, la belle province's bureaucrats, angling for their right to negotiate independently with the Yanks, are ready to cooperate in unseemly ways.
Her ideological drive suits the genre - the bad guys are really nasty, the good guys are lovable resisters. And her superb research skills create in-depth and credible detail about how murderous capitalists and consumer apathy are sending the environment into the crapper.
But she's not a super fiction writer yet. Some of the characters and and certain aspects of the narrative strain credulity, even within the context of a suspense novel. Those resisting the water project - like Claire, the dishy eco-warrior who gives speeches that sound straight out of one of Burstyn's CBC Ideas segments, or Malcolm, a 20-year U.S. Air Force veteran who catches on to army excess a little late in the game - are too good to be true.
On the plot line front, surely Malcolm's boss, consortium member Colonel Kamenev, would have guessed 100 pages earlier that Malcolm, furious that the colonel had called off a peace-oriented aeronautics project, is the one who leaked info about the water project to the enviro movement.
But Water, Inc. remains that rare thing, a bona fide Canadian thriller, and one that builds tension, especially when villain William Greele starts arranging the assassination of journalists and activists who know too much.
If she maintains a passion for her subject matter, Burstyn could conquer the thriller field. But we need less cardboard-like characters and a stronger central personality with whom we can empathize .
As it is, Water, Inc. is decent summer reading.