Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Title: The Kyoto Protocol
Author: Joe McGovern
Publisher: Dorrance Pub Co, 2006
ISBN: 080597167X, 9780805971675
Length: 262 pages

The Kyoto Protocol by Joe McGovern, not to be confused with another book by the same name, is a murder mystery set against the backdrop of the US government’s refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol and the trade of emissions reductions credits that thrives in the face of environmental regulations.

Incidentally, the Kyoto Protocol calls all member countries of the world to mandatorily reduce, by the year 2012, the amount of greenhouse gases emitted annually in an effort to arrest global warming.

The story begins with a murder. Robert Stark, the environment compliance manager of Power Systems Inc, is found dead in the River Delaware with a cargo hook in his back. Since the police have no leads, the prosecutor’s office begins to poke around the murder victim’s work files. It soon becomes clear that it was Stark’s plan to blow the whistle on violations on the part of his company that led to his death. The investigation intensifies as Sean Murphy of the Department of Justice and Steve Cooperhouse of the Environmental Protection Agency get involved.

Suspicions are further raised when investigations reveal that Power Systems earned a formidable reputation and millions of dollars through the sale of emissions reduction credits. This exposes the murky world of environmental economics where lacunae in regulations enable unethical people to make huge profits.

McGovern’s grip on the politics that stifles and suffocates environmental agendas is fluent. Here he shows himself a past master at revealing the politics and economics that govern environmental protection regulation. I was highly impressed by the extent of his knowledge of environmental laws and compliance issues, as also his research and the ease with which he has simplified complex theories for the benefit of those readers who may be uninformed about the intricacies of the world of environment regulation.

The chapter delineating the establishment of the first Earth Day and the historical context in which it happened is remarkably well written, giving me the impression that McGovern’s skills would perhaps have been even more hard-hitting in dramatising non-fiction, a task that is far more difficult than it appears to the reader.

While McGovern manages to keep the pace reasonably taut as long as he is talking about the murder investigation, he begins to lose reader interest with the unending saga of Sean’s childhood sufferings and the insipid love story. Thankfully, halfway through the book, the pace picks up with a second murder, and a third not long after that.

What I found maddening was the excessive use of full names, Sean Murphy and Steve Cooperhouse, as a matter of course, throughout the book. In one instance, I found these names repeated at least five times in a single paragraph and over many paragraphs.

Another thing that grated on my nerves was McGovern’s excessive use of names. ‘Sean Murphy did this. This happened to Sean Murphy. Sean Murphy thought this.’ On and on it goes in this vein. Tell me, where are the pronouns when you need them?

I also felt riled by the inconsistencies. On one page, we are told of Sean that he is in good physical condition for a man in his mid-40s. And then two pages later, we catch him reflecting on his nearly-50 years, which, we are told, “is an activity which he religiously performed at least once a calendar year.” He must be in possession of some elixir that ensures eternal middle age.

I also wished Murphy didn’t keep going into flashback mode. There seems no point to all that random information contained in the back story. It does nothing to endear us to our protagonist and seems a waste of words. In certain places, I was also annoyed by the author’s habit of shifting points of view in a single paragraph. Another glaring error: forgetting the names of your characters. In one place, one of the characters, Rebecca, is suddenly referred to as Stephanie. Tighter editing would certainly have helped this book.

But despite all these shortcomings, I plodded through the book, impressed with the ease with which the author has written about the environment and the very real issues that plague it. It is this ability that is the highlight of The Kyoto Protocol.

I received a complimentary copy of The Kyoto Protocol as a member of the Dorrance Publishing Book Review Team. Visit dorrancebookstore.com to learn how you can become a member of the Book Review Team.


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