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Posted: April 5, 2014

Story disappears in subterfuge and stoned smoke

Book Review

By Derryll White

Brown, E.R. (2013).  Almost Criminal.

BRInsetApr5This is E.R. Brown’s first novel. Set in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, it explores the business of growing and marketing illegal marijuana. Brown takes every opportunity to point out what a huge business this is in B.C.

The timing of this book is excellent, with big business moving to get into commercial medical marijuana grow-ops and the federal government enacting laws to permit this. So business and local governments are jockeying to be first on the ground with what they hope will be the opening of the floodgates. They are legal and regulated in B.C. as of April 1.

However, given the interesting political realities, the novel still falls flat, a narrative from which few fleshed-out characters emerge. Tate MacLane is young, brilliant and a little lost. He traffics weed, kills a man, and still I believe the reader is left wondering what he is all about. Like the mysterious super dealer Randle Kennedy, the novel hints at promise and a strong story and then disappears in subterfuge and stoned smoke.

I think back to William Deverell’s 1981 novel ‘High Crimes’ that explores the smuggling of marijuana in Newfoundland, with its strong characters and fast action. The book helped to build Deverell’s long career. I propose that this first novel of E.R. Brown’s won’t gather him a devoted readership. A strong second novel would help immensely. Almost Criminal is not a book I will pass on to other readers.

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Excerpts from the novel:

LEGALIZATION – “I blame these times and this open market.  There’s a rumour of legalization and suddenly everyone wants in. They circle around, smelling money like a shark smells blood…”

ONE PERCENTER – “You saw his one percent tattoo?”

I thought back.  “Yeah.  What’s that?”  Bullard at an Occupy protest?  No.

“Nothin’ to do with tea parties or rich bastards, it’s older than that. Some politician once proclaimed that ninety-nine percent of motorcyclists are law-abiding citizens.  Immediately, every bike gang called themselves the other one percent. They’ve got one percent badges, tats, the whole thing. Proud to be on the other side of the law.”

GROW OP – “B.C. bud,” Skip said with pride. “The best of the best.”

The room was a jungle of green, fluttering in a fan-driven breeze. Bungie cords and plastic netting held the taller plants upright. Silver-shaded lamps suspended from overhead pipes cast a deeply shadowed light. From what I could see, just doing the math in my head, there were 128 plants here. There were eight rows of shelving, two racks to a row, and two bins of four plants each to a rack.

DOWNTOWN EAST SIDE – I hated when people made a big deal of it. Yes, it was junkies and crackheads, and the whole scene was a half block from Vancouver police headquarters. Cop cars, marked and unmarked, lined the street while deals went on unimpeded. The only comment people in Vancouver ever made about it was that it was better than it used to be.

derryllwhiteDerryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.


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