The name “Erin Brockovich” brings with it instant recognition. Not for her prowess as a novelist, but because she is one of the few living people to have a movie made about her in which the actor won an Oscar for the portrayal (the unforgettable Julia Roberts in the film of the same name). The challenge of reading Brockovich’s second novel, HOT WATER, is getting past being starstruck and dealing with the story she has created.
"Echoing shades of the classic nuclear meltdown film The China Syndrome, HOT WATER is a decent thriller that is firmly grounded in the morals and family values Brockovich herself holds so dear."
Having become famous for her work as a legal aide in cases of environmental malpractice, it stands to reason that Brockovich’s fiction would tackle similar subjects. HOT WATER re-introduces readers to single mother and legal advocate AJ Palladino, who appeared in Brockovich’s debut, ROCK BOTTOM. AJ runs a small legal agency with her good friend, Elizabeth Hardy, in the tiny town of Scotia, West Virginia, which boasts a population of a whopping 864. They go out of their way to defend the underprivileged, the little guy, and often do battle with big business and environmental interests in the area.
AJ has a penchant for underdogs, herself dealing with the struggle of being a single mom to a brilliant but crippled 10-year-old boy named David. With AJ often keeping odd hours due to business needs, she relies on her mother as well as her budding love interest, Deputy Ty Stillwater. The residents of Scotia fully understand the importance of family and being good neighbors, and their lives are relatively easygoing.
This all changes when Owen Grandel enters AJ and Elizabeth’s office with a dilemma he needs their help fixing. Colleton Landing, his state-of-the-art nuclear facility in South Carolina, is described as being more like Disneyland than your standard idea of a nuclear plant. The work there involves cutting-edge technology with medical isotopes, the application of which could potentially save millions of lives. Unfortunately, like most people living near a modern nuclear plant, the local residents are not happy with Colleton Landing and the secretive work they do, and the protests have turned violent.
Additionally, several mishaps have taken place inside the plant that may involve either internal sabotage or destructive measures by the growing group of protestors. Grandel makes AJ an offer she cannot refuse --- half a million dollars just to fly down for a couple of days and check things out. If she decides to take the case for her firm, it could mean a full million, a sum that the agency has never seen. AJ leaves David in the care of her mother and Ty, and ventures to South Carolina by way of Grandel’s personal jet. While down at Colleton Landing, she is instantly taken by how modern and clean the facility looks. She is also intimidated by the group of protestors, led by a religious zealot. To compound things, a massive hurricane is forecasted and bearing down on the coast of Carolina that may strand AJ there for longer than she planned.
Meanwhile, a subplot involving AJ’s mother being rushed to the hospital and her son being kidnapped by a villain who may be connected to the Colleton Landing case builds the stress level. Unable to return home to West Virginia due to the hurricane, AJ is powerless to help her son and family in the crises in which they are involved. She needs to keep her eye on the ball because all is not as it appears at Colleton Landing. There may be forces at work that will stop at nothing to bring down that facility and the Grandel fortune.
HOT WATER moves along at a fairly brisk pace, which makes for a fast read. Brockovich, not being an accomplished writer of fiction, wisely employs CJ Lyons to assist with the undertaking of creating this story as Lyons herself is an award-winning writer of medical suspense. Echoing shades of the classic nuclear meltdown film The China Syndrome, HOT WATER is a decent thriller that is firmly grounded in the morals and family values Brockovich herself holds so dear.