Why Read or Write an Eco-Thriller?

The book Trailing Tara is an eco-thriller. It’s about a greedy few trying to steal technology that can deliver clean, affordable drinking water to those who are without – the majority of the world’s population. A young couple try to halt this theft so that the technology can be spun out for free. This breezy read oscillates between continents, beginning in the forests of British Columbia, skipping to Pepperdine University in California, then moving to Africa and back.


The above video highlights two locations from the book: California’s coastal city of Malibu (including Zuma Beach and Pepperdine University), as well as Catron County in the American state of New Mexico. Why these locations? As writers, it’s easy to write about what we know (or what interests us). A brother now lives in Malibu, while I also spent time living there in easygoing Paradise Cove while working on a previous book.

Peaceful Malibu - opening scene to a tumultuous book

Peaceful Malibu – from where our heroine flees


The helicopter/plane/car chase in New Mexico takes our two heroes to the sky. The scene is set close to property I own in New Mexico, and close to where my sister and her previous partner once owned a cabin and small airplane.

I’ve also lived at some other locations from this book – including Africa’s Namibia, as well as Switzerland. One joy of visiting Switzerland comes from riding a train through the Alps. That’s why a (brief) Swiss train scene is included in the story. The story also includes places I’ve never seen, including coastal British Columbia, and the city of Lagos. Part of the fun of writing fiction comes from knowing it can help others learn about a country, or teach us about a location we’ve never visited.


Night time in Switzerland….an unlikely scene for a thriller


The scenes from Malawi are set near the Sekwa River, at a remote location visited frequently during three years I spent living and working there as a Peace Corps volunteer. In reality (as in the book’s story) the arrival of drinking water pipelines to that location truly thrilled the local residents.

The above explains why someone might write about specific geographical places.

But what is an eco-thriller? Below are definitions.

From Bookcountry:

Environmental thriller, also called “eco-thriller,” is a fiction genre with plots reliant upon stopping or surviving a pending environmental or biological disaster. The disaster is often man-made and globally significant. Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain is often cited as the first popular environmental thriller.

Ryan Elias even lists Moby Dick as an early eco-thriller, while Robin McKie from The Guardian’s Observer Magazine says an eco-thriller can be a simple “straightforward end-of-the-world novel.” One blogger reminds us how Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt is often involved in eco-thriller action.

There’s more to the genre than pretty countryside scenes


Is every eco-thriller about wresting power away from those determined to harm the planet? Hardly. Truth is, there’s plenty of latitude for inclusion within this genre. Decades ago I read a book that still towers in sales – about an angry man determined to seek revenge for the loss of life caused by an oil tanker. The Ship Killer is a classic. Considering that oil is the antithesis of green fuels, and the protagonist is trying to prevent wrongs caused by tankers, this is an eco-thriller – even though the fate of the world is not at stake.

This genre also merges with others. Is Watership Down a children’s story or an eco-thriller? Perhaps both. If you’re still unclear about this genre, plant yourself down and read the bad-ass classic of environmental/eco thrillerdom – The Monkey Wrench Gang. Do this – and never again will you look at a dam or a billboard in the same way. Promise.


Desert of Southwest US…fertile territory for an eco-thriller


Eco-thrillers should push us to view the world in a different way: to change our accepted Standard Operating Procedures. To make us hunger to strive towards a world that is improved.

The crux of Trailing Tara revolves around levitation technology. If abundant, this could propel water through pipelines to supply it cheaply throughout the world. The underlying message is that investigating cutting-edge technologies could reduce the number of people on this planet who lack access to clean drinking water. Beside the chase scenes and simple story, the book is intended to push us to think in fresh, innovative ways to solve an ancient problem. That’s a challenge. That’s the underlying message of this fiction, and the message of the entire eco-thriller genre: how seeing the world from a more integrated, and less narrow-minded, perspective might incite us to improve it.

Then again, the book is also just a summer page-turner. I hope you enjoy.

Comments from Readers

  • I LOVED Trailing Tara! More, please.

    and yes, I vote that Watership Down is an “Eco-Thriller”, too. How funny.

    By the way, the kids here are all reading your book, “Visual Engineering”, and they’re planning the next step in their lives. Sessions every morning with huevos rancheros.

    Think I’d better re-read it….

  • If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend “Zodiac” by Neal Stephanson. The science is more plot device than precisely accurate, but its a great yarn.

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