Varda Burstyn is a distinguished environmental writer and her début novel – an accomplished eco-thriller – confirms her as an author who knows her subject inside out. Water Inc concerns a consortium of American billionaires who recognize the impending water crisis that their greed has created. These magnates plot, with the collusion of politicians and officials, to pipe water from northern Quebec into the parched and drought-ridden US. They are unconcerned that this massive water-grab will have disastrous ecological consequences for the flora, fauna and peoples of Quebec, and they are prepared to go to any lengths, including murder, to protect the secrecy of their multibillion dollar scheme. Opposing them is a disparate group including a disillusioned executive, Canadian activists for eco-justice, a campaigning journalist and assorted rogue police and computer hackers.
As the seemingly mismatched sides square off in a deadly game of double-bluff, Burstyn expertly reveals the way global corporations hide their crimes with unaccountable subsidiaries, interlocking shell companies and labyrinthine accounting trails. These tactics are matched by countervailing webs of solidarity and cross-border co-operation developed by activists, in an attempt to curb corporate environmental larceny.
Perhaps Burstyn has relied rather heavily on the serendipitous collaboration of whistle-blowers, radical activists and law-enforcement agents. Nevertheless, she marshals both her huge cast of characters and her arguments as to the importance of ‘water wars’ with skill and integrity. She is surely right in her conclusion that with water, as with the Earth’s other precious resources, ‘the choice between greed and humanity will decide the fate of millions of people for decades to come.’