“The Milieu Principle” is the gripping tale of a man who is has to go on the run because he finds top-secret files about a plan to solve the world’s population crisis by releasing a disease. Governments have been collecting more and more information on people for years, and so the people who control the governments will be able to decide which members of the population are morally and intellectually superior and they will be saved from destruction. This is a clever plot because of the current global population crisis, and the various ethical issues associated with this problem are skilfully explored.
The novel begins with Mike – the protagonist – sitting in his energy-guzzling office and looking out of his window at the green opposite his window. This is extremely clever as it sets up the dichotomy of the needs of the earth and the needs of humans from the very beginning. He also notices the vast differences between the wilds of Canada and the urbanisation of his own home-town in England, and the positive effects of working in the fresh air as opposed to in an office.
Apart from the environmental writing genre, the novel is also a valuable contribution to the action genre. Mike comes into contact with the shady world of illegal activities and espionage. His first girlfriend, Amy has become embroiled in the drug trade, and in trying to help her extricate herself from it – or so he thinks as it is later revealed that she is still part of a drug cartel – he finds himself up against a violent, merciless money lender. An old friend sends him an unmarked memory stick (USB) and gets him to come and visit in an isolated house. They hear a car outside and the friend tells him to run away. Mike thinks he is over-reacting until he hears his friend being tortured for the whereabouts of the USB. Mike is horrified and thinks there is no way he could be tortured because torture is illegal in his country. This is just the first of many such disillusionments about governments, agencies and lies. From this point on, he comes into contact with various agents who all deceive him or try to help him, seldom unequivocally.
The plot is fast-paced and gripping. The wide range of setting is impressive. Mike begins in England, but then flies to Canada with a new identity, Matt Durham, and spends a substantial amount of time in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. Then, he flies to Alaska to escape notice, and then takes a tanker to Austria for the final battle scenes between him and the people who are chasing him.
He also meets a wide range of male and female characters that keep the reader entertained and also emotionally involved. The sweet, old-fashioned characters in Victoria – the island in Canada – are perhaps the most endearing because they try their best to live honest lives. Matt falls in love with a woman called Grace who employs him as a barman. He lives to regret this as a mistake and is saved by Rosa – a beautiful agent that has recently left her agency for his cause, and Jack, one of the kindly Victoria locals. That some characters die in the ensuing battles to save Matt and his files is testament to the chilling thread in the story, as it indicates the ruthlessness of the agencies that chase him. The novel also contains many humorous moments of camaraderie – particularly between Jack and Matt and Rosa and Matt – that serve to lighten the novel from becoming too unremittingly serious.
Mike is a brilliantly-drawn portrait of a corporate businessman: cold with a soft-hearted interior. He does not care if his lifestyle impacts the environment badly, nor if he never has any substantial human relations. The alter-ego he becomes after being on the run, Matt Durham, is a man who has let his inner soft side out, and cares what happens both to the environment and to other people. This is also an interesting development as it would suggest that once one begins to care, one begins to care about all life. He is also a good choice for a protagonist as he is evidently a moral person, but he takes mistaken steps along the way, and this makes him endearing for the reader. It also makes him a didactic figure, as there is the implication that the reader will learn from Mike/Matt’s mistakes.
The female characters are all extremely dynamic women who are often wiser than their male counterparts. Mike’s manager in his company is called Tina, and she runs the company better than he does because of her superior people skills. Amy is a beautiful and highly manipulative woman who gets others to do her dirty work and protect her from the harm she invites.
Rosa is a powerful and sexy agent who saves Matt’s life several times, just as he saves hers. She is in love with a character called Johannes, but he is also killed in the struggle to make the knowledge public. There is a powerful attraction between her and Matt, but it is never truly consummated. Matt returns to Victoria at the end of the novel without her, and this is an incredibly clever ending as it leaves the reader with the sensation of wanting more as not all the loose ends are tied up.
The final powerful woman is Catherine Vogel, a powerful and ethical politician who eventually agrees to help make the knowledge public. It is interesting that the political hope for the world is a woman and not a man.
The author uses the advantages of having a third-person narrator by describing the protagonist through other characters’ eyes occasionally. This is only one indication of the fact that this author has gathered up the different elements of the text and used them to their best advantage.
I would recommend this novel. It is a cut above most thrillers because of its relevance to modern day conundrums and also because of its didactic strain.