Kevin Doyle Blog

Writing and activism

Oh No … Not A Crime Novel

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a-poisioned-mind2I was interested in A Poisoned Mind by Natasha Cooper for one main reason.  It was about the chemical industry and since I have recently completed a novel about same I was intrigued to see how someone else might tackle the subject. Few enough books tackle anything related to the chemical industry anyway, so for that reason alone it seemed worth a look.

The blurb about Poisoned Mind seemed like something I was just after – even if was mining my seam.  There’s a chemical explosion and a man dies. At a center of the book is the contest between the widow and the chemical company for damages and liability.  Who will win and will justice be done?  All well and fine, I suppose …

However, I soon realised that Poisoned Mind is just one in a series of books involving ‘the hotshot barrister Trish Maguire’ who it turns out was once from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’.  Although it does quickly emerge in this case that Trish is working not for the victim of the blast – that would be too easy in a way – but rather for the chemical corporation itself.  Ah, lawyers!  For this pleasure she suffers twangs of guilt aplenty. Anyway, I started.  Nothing like a page turner for Xmas … mmmh!

First off it was difficult to get away from the heavy hand of the narrator/ writer who insisted on a face-moving, on the surface view of all matters. Okay, it is crime fiction.  We were into the complications of the impending court case very quickly … a David and Goliath test with Trish working ably for Goliath. The widow/victim, Angie, who is a down-at-heel farmer, also has to contend with an estranged son and a now contaminated farm.  I won’t go into too much detail here suffice to say that some of her farmland was loaned to a waste disposal company; the company located storage tanks on this land and it was one of these that exploded and ruined her farm, after killing her husband.  For the most part Angie seem just about knocked out by the tragedies that have befallen her … except that is for the goodness and kindness of FADE … an environmental group who, it soon emerges, are not all that they seem.

Anyway, as I said, the writing style that is applied to this book/genre does it no favours.  Characters had pretty stylised reactions to events – and we never go anywhere beyond the immediate needs of each character and their role in the plot.  Apart from Trish herself that is.  She must do her job and manage her home life despite being driven, overworked and overburdened.  There is a subplot to do with Trish and all this but enought said.  The other main character, Angie, is sad and a victim.  The members of FADE, while nice, seem immediately naive and are led – easily, it seems – by a manipulative character Greg whom Angie doesn’t like.

So on the main plot – hopefully that will retrieve this book.  Not really unfortunately.  It turns out that the in this case, as mentioned, the chemical industry is the chemical waste industry and the company in question had some bizarre arrangement with a farmer to locate some of its storage tanks on his land – to supplement his income the farmer John checks the tanks regularly for the company.  And so something went wrong and John either didn’t do his job or their was sabotage and one evening Jhn was in the wrong place at the wrong time and the tank blew up …

There is much that could be knocked about this book – and genre – but as I am a writer myself and I understand what other writers are up against in the market, I am prepared to desist – to a point.  However I do strongly object to the portrait of the environmental group.  It seems to me that if a writer is to tackle serious subjects and attempt to portray people in a real light then there is some onus on them to convey the material honestly.  Instead we meet a group – FADE – who are no more than a bunch of well-meaning fools, whom, as I said, are very easily manipulated.   This might all be fun and games for the writer and the genre except for the fact that it panders to the worse of prejudices and, I dare say, plays to a neatly conservative social and political agenda too – which, well, enought said.  I myself have had a limited involvement with environmental groups over the years but I have yet to meet anything like the buffons who populate this book. On the contrary in fact.  As they say in Cork: really like Natasha!

And as to the chemistry and the chemical industry … well there was little of it in this book to sate my appetite.  In fact there was very little.  And just a few morsels would have done me!

So overall, very disappointing.  I wish the writer well but please Natasha could the business of politics be not so cut and dried and so cosy the next time.

Recommendation: give it a miss.

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Written by Kevin Doyle

January 16, 2009 at 11:22 am

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