The strange death of three young children in a small coastal village in far away Papua New Guinea in March 1972 did not rate a mention in the territory’s annual report that year to its Australian governors—let alone make a ripple in international ponds. Yet, it was an event of incredible proportions. It marked the end of a chain of knowledge that extended back more than 45,000 years; it heralded the beginning of an era of immense, baffling phenomena and disasters around the world; and it marked the rise of a deadly toxin from the seabed that would spread from country to country.
The book works back in time to discover the origin of the toxin’s host, traces its emergence and bizarre spread from country to country with resulting deaths, and projects into the future the likely, unsettling to horrific, consequences for the world’s food security, already set irreversibly in motion.
It is a story that encompasses much of the globe, from the Pacific islands to Asia—Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines—to the Middle East—Persian Gulf and Red Sea, and the Egypt of the Pharaohs—to the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the Americas, and to Australia and Antarctica.
It is a detective story too, about who or what killed the three children, taking us in helicopters, light planes, speedboats and a naval patrol vessel, and on underwater explorations.
It is a romance spanning a period from the tail end of the Palaeolithic era, pausing for a less ancient exodus, that of the Jews from Egypt, and for Cleopatra’s—incredibly expensive as we will see—dinner with Marc Antony, and leap-frogging through events over the following two millennia via connections with Spanish kings, Napoleon Bonaparte, and the most famous pair to play the part of Cleopatra and Marc Antony in modern times: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
Finally, it is the story of a young scientist sent unknowingly as a spy into Papua New Guinea shortly before its independence. How did he find himself enmeshed in the threads of this strange puzzle and what did he discover?