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Volcano - Richard Doyle

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

Volcano by Richard Doyle is a tale, not of two cities, but of two communities – one on the island of La Palma in the Canaries, the other, 3,000 miles away on the eastern seaboard of the United States. Charco Verde, La Palma and Goodwill, Maine – what could possibly link the two?

The answer is, of course, a volcano – La Palma’s Cumbre Vieja volcano which, for the purpose of Doyle’s thriller, erupts with a ‘super-Krakatoa blast’, causing its weakened west flank to fall into the Atlantic ocean and generate a mega-tsunami that will devastate everything in its path – and that includes Goodwill.

The action, which takes place over a period of just four days and 693 pages (paperback edition), is fast and furious, barely letting up for even an instant and scarcely giving readers chance to draw breath. And in case a New England seaport filled to overflowing with visitors isn’t cause enough for concern, Doyle has thrown in an arsonist, a stranded tanker – with each of its two tanks holding 5,000 tons of liquefied natural gas under pressure – and a young family on a white water rafting trip.

Adding to the mayhem is a convoy of surfers with a leader hell-bent on riding ‘the wave to end all waves’ and, out in the Atlantic, a submarine and an ocean survey vessel. While on La Palma, two separate groups head for the volcano – a team of geologists and a band of desperate men who will do anything to save their village. Phew!

The result is guaranteed to keep the pages turning although it gives characters (and there are a great many of them) little chance to develop, so our sympathies with victims are, by and large, superficial. There are, of course, Rick and Natalie but they’re certainly no Jack and Rose whose fate on Titanic was far more keenly felt. A pity….

Doyle’s prose has a raw edge to it but succeeds nicely in transporting the reader into the very thick of the action. However, I noticed a discrepancy early in the narrative – on page four, ‘there was no moon’ but just three pages further on ‘the pale gleam of waves’ was seen ‘in the moonlight’ – not a good sign, I thought, but that’s as far as it went; whether because this was an isolated incident or because I had become totally absorbed in the story, I’m not sure.

Volcano is a fictional account of a disaster that some scientists believe may one day happen. All I can say is I hope the authorities will be better equiped to deal with it than those represented here. Yet Volcano is also a tale of survival and that, considering the possibilities, is as it should be. A great read, Volcano comes highly recommended.