Detective Superintendent Harriet Martins is sitting in her local pub chatting with
her husband, John, when she receives some devastating news. Like a "pearl of thunder," her mobile phone rings with an obliterating message: her son Graham has been killed, the victim of a booby trap. Malcolm, his twin brother, who was with him at the time, has been seriously injured.
This inexplicable act
of violence turns Harriet's whole world upside-down. Every last corner of her life is filled with a blank, black, overwhelming grief.
A new insidious terrorist group assumes responsibility, a group of Indians allegedly fighting against all forms of Western
imperialism, dedicated to ending what they see as wicked Western influences.
Told by her boss, Assistant Chief Constable Andrew Brown, that the best medicine for these troubles is just to keep on working,
Harriet is placed in charge of an investigation involving the theft of a prohibitively dangerous herbicide from Heronsgate House, an agricultural research station situated just outside of Birchester.
Named CA 534, the material is indeed formidable; just a small amount of the substance unleashed into the environment has the capacity to destroy all life for miles around. The herbicide can also be manipulated to produce an unstoppable runaway substance several thousand times more effective than the original.
Who could have taken this small sample once thought to have been destroyed, and how do they propose to use it? Arriving on the scene, Harriet interviews two feckless security guards who can tell her little, except that the intruders had scarves across their faces, were wearing rubber gloves, and sported guns, and threatened to tie the two of them up and douse them with petrol.
Heronsgate's conceited director, Dr. Lennox, also offers little insight into the crime.
His personal assistant, the easily-led Christopher Alexander, seems to be withholding information. Suspicion also turns to Professor Wichmann, a German professor who
may have a long-standing beef with the British Government.
The evidence, however, that either Professor Wichmann or his protégé Christopher Alexander were responsible for the break-in at Heronsgate House is shadowy at best, and what appears to be random crime is in fact far more sinister.
The clues ultimately point towards the wacko organization Women Against Genetic Interference (WAGI) whose
members believe in stopping scientific interference by violence. The group is lead by the wealthy Gwendoline Tritton, a formidable matronly woman who views activism as her private hobby and might well see this herbicide as a way of bargaining for her cause.
Exploring the relevant issues of terrorism, Author H.R.F. Keating delivers a short, sharp and totally compelling novel, presenting a world where the weak have realized they possess the ultimate weapon of violence. Harriet Martens is obviously a driven woman, especially since terrorism has struck right at the heart her family:
she, her sons, and her husband have, however unfairly, become victims of the enemy in the
war on terror.
Although fearless, Harriet ultimately has a compassionate heart and a realistic take on the problems of the world.
She is the first to realize that, as a loving mother, her priorities are with her beloved Malcolm, and
that what he needs now, more than ever in order for him to heal, is the support and total love of his parents.