The Death of Grass begins with an idyllic introductory scene, a visit by the Custance family to Blind Gill, an unforgettably green oasis among desert mountains. There, David’s love of the land wins him his grandfather’s farm and John’s near drowning reveals a secret that will later save lives.
Twenty-five years later, as the Chung-Li rice virus decimates rich fields, two hundred million Chinese people die of famine and Hong Kong implodes as smug Londoners speculate that Chinese secretiveness kept Western technology from introducing an antivirus isotope. Roger Buckley of the British ministry of production, a close friend of John Custance, an engineer, has insider information that the isotope has not killed a key virus strain, once kept in check by the stronger, now dead, forms. This virus threatens grasses and grains world-wide, and famine spreads westward. Brown patches dot the English countryside, but the government issues optimistic reports as reassurance. David Custance switches his crops to potatoes and beets, kills his cows, salts the meat, and urges the family to join him, but John delays. The Buckleys agree to warn the Custances when the situation becomes critical in return for a place in the protected valley of Blind Gill.
Initially, Roger is a cynical self-preservationist, irritated with “woolly-mindedness” and convinced of government perfidy. Proud of being a savage at heart, he forces John to see the seriousness...
(The entire section is 586 words.)