One Man and his Bomb begins with an inexplicable act of violence. Detective Superintendent Harriet Martins is idly chatting with her husband John, having a drink with him in the local pub when she receives some devastating news. Like a pearl of thunder, her mobile phone suddenly rings with its obliterating message, her son Graham has been killed; the victim of a booby trap, and Malcolm his twin brother, who was with him at the time, has been seriously injured.
In an instant, Harriet's whole world turns upside down, and it's an existence filled to every last corner with a blank, black overwhelming grief, "nothing but utter loss." An organization of Indian terrorists take the blame, allegedly fighting against all forms of Western Imperialism, a new insidious terrorist group - perhaps modeled on al Qaeda - dedicated to ending what they see as wicked Western influences.
Harriet breaks down and she seems to split in two, both feelings battling around inside her head: The real Harriet is weighed-down with grief and the "hologram Harriet," becomes an emotionless machine, only able to think rationally about what the professional and career driven Harriet should be doing.
Told by her boss, Assistant Chief Constable Andrew Brown, that she must continue working because "work is the best the best medicine to help her get out of these troubles," Harriet carries on with her attempts to counter a possible threat of a terrorist attack in Birchester.
Brown places Harriet in charge of an investigation involving the theft of a prohibitively dangerous herbicide from Heronsgate House, an agricultural research station situated right on the outskirts 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. But who could have taken this small sample that was once thought 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 and rubber gloves in their hands and sported guns, and threatened to tie the two of them up and even douse them with petrol.
Heronsgate's shifty and arrogant director Dr. Lennox also offers little insight into the crime, whilst his personal assistant, the easily led and rather diffident Christopher Alexander seems to be withholding information. Suspicion also turns to Professor Wichmann, a German professor, who new Alexander and was encouraging him to take a Doctorate course in German Literature.
Aware that if something like this gets into the hands of any terrorist organization, it might prove as much a threat as whatever explosives they normally acquire, Harriet must race against time to find the perpetrators. But what appears to be random crime is in fact far more sinister. The evidence that either Professor Wichmann or his protégé were responsible for the break-in at Heronsgate House is shadowy at best.
Yet Harriet discovers that Christopher's newly acquired girlfriend Maggie, the white-smiling marathon runner, is a member of Women Against Genetic Interference, also known as WAGI, a wacko crowd who believe in stopping scientific interference by violence. The group is lead by the wealthy Gwendoline Tritton, a formidable woman who views activism as her private hobby and who thinks she knows best or believes whatever she happens to think must be so.
Most interesting is that the organization still occasionally likes to inflict a little physical damage and might well see this herbicide as a way of bargaining for their cause and even having the potential to topple the mighty British government.
The action gravitates between Harriet's professional sleuthing as she uncovers the evildoers and copes with the fact that Graham was blown to pieces on some deliberate act. She also is well ware that she must care for Malcolm now her only surviving son, who is still alive, but terribly and horribly injured.
This is a short, sharp and totally persuasive novel, which explores the complex issues of terrorism, viewing it as the new revolutionary idea where the weak have realized they possess the weapon of violence, indeed senseless violence, seen in suicide bombers all over the world. Author H.R.F. Keating writes with great deft and vigor, allowing us to get right into the heart of Harriet's troubled psyche, so that we actually share in her grief and in her search for answers.
There's no doubt that Harriet is a driven woman, especially since terrorism has struck right at the heart her family. Harriet and her sons, and her husband John, have become, however unfairly, victims of the enemy in the War on Terror. Yet Harriet ultimately has a compassionate heart and a realistic take on the problems of the world and she's the first to realize that her priorities are with her beloved Malcolm and what he needs now, more than ever, is the support and total love of his parents. Mike Leonard October 06.