Murder-mystery cares about environment

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December 17, 2012

Business As Usual
By Michael Boughn
Published by NeWest Press
354 pages, $22.95

Reviewed by Jenny Aitken

Michael Boughn, who has written plays, books of poetry and a young adult novel grounded in myth has now tried his hand at a new form: the mystery novel. In Business as Usual, Boughn weaves together a multi-faceted plot line that includes illegal toxic waste dumping, amateur detectives, Mafia, murder and a whole lot of intrigue.

Like most mystery novels, the story begins with a crime – a murder to be more precise. But it is not the police or criminal detectives that step forward to save the day; in fact no one seems to care about Bernie Donatello, the truck driver who went missing along the 89 highway in Toronto. No one, that is, except Clare Dumont and her boyfriend David Sanders. After receiving a call from a friend, Clare, a professor of botany, agrees to investigate the sudden plague that has befallen her friend’s grape vines, seemingly overnight. Her boyfriend David, a struggling poet in need of some excitement, begs to go along. Reluctantly Clare agrees, and they set off for Niagara Falls.

When the pair discovers an abandoned trailer, along with evidence of toxic waste having been emptied into the quarry surrounding the vineyard, they are left with more questions than answers. Is someone purposefully using the quarry as a dumping ground for poisonous chemicals? And if so, why leave a licensed trailer as evidence? Clare wants to let the mystery remain just that, but David, hoping to get a publishable story out of the find, coerces her into looking for answers. And so the two set out to discover the truth, jokingly imitating Nick and Nora Charles. Little do they know that it will throw them into the path of the Mafia and a corrupt cabal of government officials.

Boughn’s novel may follow a “business as usual” approach to a mystery, starting with a violent crime and then introducing the unlikely heroes, but despite its occasionally formulaic nature, the vivid descriptions and lively characters more than compensate.
Business as Usual is bolstered by thorough and engaging character descriptions, and the protagonists are endearing and complex. Clare is a levelheaded professor, but also practices martial arts and can deliver a Charlie’s Angel style spin kick. David, on the other hand, is excitable and goofy, more willing to go head to head against a member of the Mafia than to clean his own apartment.

Despite the witty repartee and exaggerated circumstances throughout, Business as Usual still works as a reminder of the danger of treating the environment like your own personal dumping ground. Without being preachy or melodramatic, this novel demonstrates the importance of paying attention to environmental issues, and the dangers of going one on one with the mob (although I suspect most of us probably knew that.)

Jenny Aitken enjoyed this novel after her end-of-semester assignments

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