Politics plays a big role in Baumgartner’s debut novel, which tells the story of a legalized marijuana industry in Washington state.
From the opening scene, the story paints scientist Sam VanDerhout as a kind of hero, as he helps out a farm collective of people trying to live solely off the land. Marijuana isn’t their only crop—it’s just the one that allows them to keep financially afloat. When a police helicopter lands to bust them, Sam takes the rap on behalf of the collective. However, representatives from Fields Pharmaceuticals spring Sam from jail and offer to buy his research on a strain of marijuana that could hold the cure for cancer. He refuses, insisting that corporations shouldn’t be allowed to rake in money on such a cure. Instead, he goes on to help the small town of Lester, Washington, revitalize itself with state-sponsored marijuana production. Fields sends Mackenzie Blake, a lab researcher working on her own marijuana study, to spy on him. The rest of the supporting cast is also somewhat engaging, including the Lester residents who throw themselves into pot growing and Sam’s friends Marty and Vicky Jo, a park ranger and his girlfriend who provide muscle and comic relief. Overall, Baumgartner’s prose is clean and efficient. However, his novel often seems like little more than thinly veiled advocacy for marijuana legalization. The heroes, for example, are all for it, and at times, they sound more like pundits than real people having real conversations (“[U]ntil there is a true shift in people’s perception, getting some miraculous marijuana cure out there for public use is nearly impossible”). Sometimes, the narrative gets into technical details about marijuana growing and production that have little to do with the larger action of the story. The bad guys are also so cartoonish that the heroes never seem in any real danger.
A mildly entertaining tale of marijuana growing but one that’s too predictable to make much of an impression.