DIRT CHEAP by Lyn Miller-Lachmann


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An engrossing, if flawed, eco-thriller.

The tightly structured story revolves around the mercurial hero, Nicholas Baran, a rebellious history professor whose rabble-rousing past derailed him from his tenure track at an Ivy League university. Some 15 years later, Baran is the star faculty member at a community college in an industrial area of Connecticut, where he lives with his wife and two children. After his two best friends and neighbors die of cancer, and he himself is treated for leukemia, his suspicions of the looming chemical plant that overshadows his otherwise idyllic suburban neighborhood amplify, prompting him to take action. Enlisting the help of a local high-school teacher, a colleague and eventually, his own teenage son, Nick sets out to prove that the plant’s officials have engineered a dastardly contamination cover-up. Nick and his crew surreptitiously take samples to test for chemicals in the nearby river, (much more overtly) dig up neighborhood yards and work to pinpoint cancer clusters. All the while, Nick struggles against the impending return of his cancer, a menacing local attorney possibly in cahoots with the plant’s officials and the general disdain of his neighbors, who consider his actions detrimental to property values. Eco-crime is an intriguing premise for a thriller, and the author provides enough plot twists and suspense to maintain reader interest while skillfully weaving in subtle but important political points. The romantic subplots, on the other hand, seem forced and inconsistent with the personalities of the characters, a problem that disrupts the narrative pacing, and the prose too often becomes trite–“soon the whole world would know exactly what [the company] had done.” Surely, with a little more care, the author could have made all of her sentences as inventive as the main storyline.

Occasionally hackneyed, but ultimately enthralling and politically astute.

Pub Date: June 6th, 2006
ISBN: 1-931896-29-1
Program: Kirkus Indie
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