Friday, October 18, 2013

Almost Criminal Breaks Bad With Pot

Almost Criminal
Tate MacLane is brilliant. If he was like any one of a thousand other brilliant kids, his biggest hardship after high school would be choosing among the dozens of college and university scholarships offered.

Any of them would be happy to have MacLane. He was a prodigy, graduating from high school at age 14. In fact, this is almost exactly how it played out. He didn't think twice after receiving a long and glowing acceptance letter with the promise of a full scholarship until it didn't work out.

After being tossed out for socialization issues and burdened with a once-famous mother undone by trying to survive breast cancer, MacLane (now age 17) is supporting his mom and younger sister by working at a coffee shop in Wallace, British Columbia. His prospects seem grim.

For the past three years, he has dreamed about going back to school in Vancouver. He has even been accepted to attend the same school as the lesbian who caught his interest. This time around, however, he doesn't have the same kind of acceptance letter. It's much shorter, with no offer of tuition.

It all started in a coffee shop when a customer asked a favor. 

The favor seemed harmless, even if it was obvious. Randle Kennedy had an envelope for another customer and wanted MacLane to deliver it. Specifically, he wanted MacLane to deliver it to the woman on the other side of an aquarium shortly after he left.

"She knows I'm here, this is no surprise. No one's going to make a scene," he promised.

A little customer service can go a long way, especially when it's a test. Kennedy had plans for MacLane. He would come in when the lines were longest and always ask for the same thing — a macchiato with its tiny rosette of foam on a demitasse of rich espresso. His tips were always noticed.

His profession was always noticed too. As British Columbia's most prolific producer of boutique marijuana with strains to please the most sophisticated palates, Kennedy was always looking for new talent. MacLane seemed like a good candidate.

He was young, fresh faced and friendly. He was smart, decidedly sharper than anyone who would gravitate toward the profession on their own. And, even better, it was obvious the teen needed money.

This is how MacLane was introduced to the drug trade, even if Kennedy didn't like to think about it that way. He preferred to think of himself as an entrepreneur, someone who would be there at the right time and right place when marijuana eventually would become legalized in Canada and the United States.

He even had the goods to do it. He had strains that could deliver a light contemplative buzz or a mind-warping stone, even if his specialty was making medical varieties for patients with cancer and other ailments. But until that time, he still had to operate under the radar.

As much as medical marijuana earned the biggest profit, the real market was recreational usage. So Kennedy has to split his take with protection, a local biker gang. He has to pay muscle so he can get his product across the border. And he has developed an elaborate system of grow houses, where nobody knows too many people on the inside.

It was just the kind of operation a smart kid like MacLane could benefit from, earning enough over the summer to support his family and paying for his first year of tuition. It all seemed like a slam dunk, except one part. He never expected leaving the business would be harder than getting into it.

A couple of graphs about author E.R. Brown. 

E.R. Brown
E.R. Brown would go by Eric if he could, but then nobody would be able to find him as an author. Eric Brown is just too common (not to mention a better known sci-fi writer with the same name). Besides, he saves that name for his other life as a copywriter and business communicator, writing content for advertisements and annual reports.

As a debut, Almost Criminal stands out as a light crime noir with the whole affair decidedly more pleasant than what most people stateside would expect. Sure, the dealers and bikers will do bad things to people who cross them, but everyone is all smiles until they do. The writing is everything you want out of an entertaining read — direct, crisp, and lightly comical with well-drawn characters and believable events.

Almost Criminal Lights Up 7.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Sometimes the book comes across as slightly too smart for its own good, meaning that MacLane can be logical to the point of aloofness as he feels more like a witness to life than someone experiencing it. This doesn't necessarily spoil the book as much as it keeps the tone light and charming. Almost Criminal is a fun and engaging romp across the lighter side of drug trafficking just north of the border.

You can find Almost Criminal by E.R. Brown on Amazon where it debuted earlier this year. The book is also available from Barnes & Noble and can be downloaded for iBooks. The audiobook is available on iTunes, but the narration leaves something to be desired. While Brandon Massey has the right voice, it takes an exceedingly long time to break away from a monotone delivery and feel like the character.
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