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Here we go again – another tale of a great American city devastated by nuclear war, Godzilla, the Ebola virus, or natural disaster. In order to be worthy of notice, a new destroy-that-city tale would have to be a cut above its predecessors. The author has done his best to accomplish that here.

The prologue takes place in St. Pierre, Martinique, in 1902, when the eruption of Mt. Pelée killed 30,000.

The action moves forward to California in 2012.

US Geological Survey vulcanologist Cavan Monaghan and his soon-to-be lover, helicopter pilot Veronica (Ronnie) Wentworth, head up a group of environmentally devoted people trying to find a connection between a recent siege of moderate earthquakes and the appearance of hot springs in the counties north of San Francisco. The team includes a gay paramedic and his partner; a second-grade teacher; a sculptress who lives on a houseboat; a retired geology professor; a cross-dressing coroner's assistant, and a marine biologist. Other major characters: an arrogant newspaper columnist, the Hispanic Governor of California, the female President of the United States, a hypertensive salvage ship captain, an ingenious Army Corps of Engineers General whose lover is a zealous reporter, a pair of Pakistani ship dismantlers, Ronnie's wealthy and manipulative father, and assorted US senators, high-ranking military officers, and cabinet members.

Cavan suspects that a major earthquake may be imminent. He is surprised that the USGS is playing down evidence of that earthquake in contravention of the agency's responsibility to alert the public to latent disasters. Cavan’s data suggest that the earthquake might cause magma to surface somewhere nearby. Two people die in accidents involving superheated water – one of them in the Golden Gate Channel. Cavan stumbles on clandestine, seabed-drilling activity 50 miles offshore. The Secretary of the Interior and Cavan’s superiors try to impede his investigation. Convinced that the government is blindsiding its citizens, Cavan decides to make his findings public.

But time runs out. An explosive eruption rocks the channel two miles outside the Golden Gate Bridge, blasting millions of tons of channel bottom and seawater skyward. A cinder cone begins to rise. The eruption generates a tsunami that devastates communities around San Francisco Bay. The ashfall mandates mass evacuations. The terror, trauma, and confusion of the post-eruption hours are described in detail. Chinatown burns. The death toll exceeds 33,000. Property losses are incalculable. Volcanic ejecta threatens to close the channel, cutting off billions a week in trade. Ash threatens to collapse the Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco is evacuated. California's governor decides to bulldoze a ship canal through the peninsula south of San Francisco.

Cavan, promoted to chief of the USGS facility at Menlo Park, finds that high ranking government officials knew of the volcanic threat and had authorized an experiment to divert the emerging magma to the sea bottom instead of the channel. Cavan is asked to brief President Waterman, and finds out that she never knew about the experiment. The President pressures a cabinet member into revealing that a shadow government consisting of high-level government officials has existed since the 1970’s. It’s raison d’être was that if ever a major presidential decision were to threaten the United States with extreme injury or disgrace, the shadow group would bypass the President and make the necessary decisions. The group was convinced that by protecting the presidency as an institution, they might keep constitutional government from failing in a time of severe national unrest, and that the group would take the fall if a secret undertaking failed and the group's existence were exposed. The President dissolves the shadow government.

A sub-sea nuclear device is detonated and the volcano goes silent.

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