Bookended by a strong opening and an awkward conclusion, with a few too many cliches sprinkled in between, Tunnel Visions is still a compelling read. Kurt Kamm has certainly done his homework, exposing a history of water wars that is almost too fascinating to be true, but true it is - not to mention the most compelling layer of this work of faction.
Like I said, the opening is exceptionally strong, as Kamm dramatizes the methane disaster that killed 17 men in 1971, deep underground in the Sylmar Tunnel. It's a story of greed, arrogance, and hubris, pairing a disaster that could (indeed should) have been avoided, with a controversial decision to destroy one natural ecosystem in order to sustain an unnatural one. If, like me, you've never given any though to the water situation in California, then this book will be a definite eye opener.
From there, the story leaps ahead to the present day, with a threat of domestic terrorism targeting that very same water supply. At its heart are a firefighter trained in tunnel rescue operations, and a special agent for the ATF. Adrenaline junkies first, and professionals second, Nick and Cindi are a romantic couple third - and that's where the cliches begin. Once again, terrorist plans thwart a well-planned proposal, leaving a couple teetering on the edge of becoming engaged, even if Cindi doesn't know it. I don't want to spoil the story, but there are several moments I'm afraid you'll see coming, having recognized the signs from countless plots before, including the usual ignorance of traffic patterns by authorities who really should know better, and a key betrayal that's not as much of a shock as it should be.
Having said that, there is also an interesting mystery that connects the past with the present, and that carries much of the book. We like Nick, and we want to understand what motivates him, especially when he drops the early bombshell that his original inspiration was all a lie. Unfortunately, that mystery kind of comes to a dead end, adding nothing to the story other than creating an artificial bridge between history and current events. As for the climax of the novel, it certainly has its moments, but then it too just stops. Ultimately, this is a book that feels like it's missing a chapter or two between that climax and the epilogue.
Despite its flaws, however, Tunnel Visions is still an exciting, compelling read, and worth it for the historical details alone.
Paperback, 208 pages
Published May 2nd 2014 by MCM Publishing