A recently unemployed and terminally ill man’s scheme to make millions growing saffron inadvertently sparks an international incident in Muggington’s (Pomroy’s World: Alone, 2015, etc.) droll comedy.
The same day Borden Duffield loses his Wall Street job, his doctor tells him that he has pancreatic cancer and, at best, a year to live. Wife Helen’s new gig walking dogs won’t pay the mortgage, but Borden gets no response from the hundreds of job applications he’s sent out. When he learns saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, Borden and neighbor/best friend Hill Buckley head to Pennsylvania’s Amish Country for pointers on farming it. He figures if he can make a profitable saffron business, he’ll secure Helen’s future. The Amish trip doesn’t go well, so Borden books a flight to Iran, top producer of saffron. His decision to hide his plan from Helen, however, leads to a misunderstanding (of sorts), and Helen reports her husband kidnapped. By the time Borden returns to the U.S., any saffron-relevant info he’s picked up takes a back seat to the media hounding his door. Things only get more confusing from here once the kidnapping ordeal drags a U.S. government agent, a CIA spy, and Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious inventor of the bitcoin, into the Duffields’ lives. Muggington’s novel is chiefly a series of misadventures, amusing scenes involving an inebriated Borden and Hill causing problems, including a kitchen fire. Borden can be boorish at times—he’s unemployed but fully expects Helen to handle the cooking and then complains, even if just to himself, about her culinary skills. Nevertheless, his goal to ensure Helen will be OK after he’s gone is admirable. It’s clear, too, that Borden loves his wife; he’s often in trouble due to excessive drinking, but he’s at least worried that Helen will be mad. The zany story goes in surprising directions, like when Helen suddenly becomes intent on communicating with her canine client, Haggis. She succeeds, a turn that has a humorous connection to the main plot. The ending doesn’t quite answer all the questions—a suitcase mix-up remains a bit perplexing—but Muggington largely resolves the story.
Not the most simpatico protagonist, but continuous mishaps make for a gloriously absurd tale.