Most of us know Erin Brockovich from the movie of the same name, starring Julia Roberts. And most of us know her as the feisty advocate for environmental justice, who helped settle cases against, among others, PG&E for polluting the town of Hinkley, California’s water supply by leaking toxic Chromium 6 into the ground water. Brockovich broke into the world of media with the Lifetime series, Final Justice With Erin Brockovich, which she hosted for three seasons. Then, in 2001, there followed a non-fiction book, Take It From Me: Life's a Struggle But You Can Win. Now, she’s entering the world of fiction with Rock Bottom, written with CJ Lyons.
Touted as the first of a series of suspense novels about an environmental crusader, the story follows AJ Palladino as she journeys back to her West Virginia hometown after a traumatic incident. It’s only the latest difficulty she’s faced holding onto a job. So, whether out of desperation or a desire to start over again, AJ, a single mother, packs herself and David, her 10-year old wheelchair-bound son, into her car and heads for “Scotia, Population 867,” deep in the heart of West Virginia coal country. (p. 4)
Unresolved tensions, the roots of which surface only much later in the story, make her unwelcome at her parents’ house, so she hightails it to Gram Flora’s, where she finds an open door. Soon after she gets acclimated, AJ discovers that Zachary Hardy, the lawyer whom she’s agreed to work for, has just died.
At Hardy’s funeral, AJ meets his daughter, Elizabeth. Present at the memorial service, too, is Cole Masterson, son of the town’s coal company scion, who also happens to be the father of AJ’s son, a child he is still unaware was even born. (Ten years earlier, AJ had had a near-death experience when her car careened off the highway and into the water, nearly drowning herself. Rumors circulated it was an attempted suicide.)
Completing the cast of characters at the center of this gnarled, somewhat contrived, occasionally overwritten and overwrought story are Cole’s wife, Waverly, a group of radical environmental activists known as “The Ladies,” and their media-hungry ring leader, Yancey, along with a several more minor characters.
But what finally sets the action earnestly in motion is the allegation a reporter makes based on an anonymous tip she’s received: Zachary Hardy didn’t die of a heart attack; he was murdered. When Elisabeth herself receives a threatening message AJ decides to convince Elizabeth to take on whatever case her father was tracking and, with AJ’s help, get to the bottom of the emerging mystery.