Unscrupulous land developer Tucker Loomis bribes a government official to ensure that his phony land development plans for Bernard Island are believed in court. If they are, Loomis stands to be awarded close to ten million dollars by the United States government when the island becomes a wildlife refuge. Wade Rowley sees through Loomis’ swindle and tries to stop it, but Loomis will not let anything or anyone stand in his way, even if it means murder.
Here, as in his previous works, MacDonald’s feel for the delicate balance of nature is deliberately contrasted with the rapaciousness of corrupt officials. This conflict infuses the novel with a tension absent from works by less skillful writers involving big money and corruption. Interestingly, Wade Rowley, the protagonist of BARRIER ISLAND, is himself a real-estate broker, but one who believes that man has an obligation to build without ruining the environment.
Rowley attempts to find proof of Loomis’ scam before the case is heard in court, he discovers four fraudulent deeds of sale to parcels of land on Bernard Island. In the cover-up attempt that follows, Rowley’s partner is murdered. Then Wade discovers that the murder was a mistake--he was the intended target.
Wade continues to probe, and Loomis continues to cover his tracks. The complexity of lies and dirty deals becomes staggering, with Tucker Loomis always one step ahead. It all should end with the court case, but in true MacDonald fashion somebody has an ace up a sleeve.
MacDonald’s smooth prose and fine plotting qualify him as one of the finest contemporary American writers. His style has never been better or his indignation more finely honed than it is in BARRIER ISLAND.