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Friday, January 23, 2015


4 stars out of 5

Let's get the nitty gritty stuff out of the way first: I obtained this book free (Kindle version) because I promised to write an honest review. So it shall be - and here goes:

Overall, this is an enjoyable book that moves along quickly; it's part action/adventure, part mystery and part romance (the latter of which isn't even close to my "thing," but more on that later). The main characters, Amber Wilson and Mark Staunton (Amber's boss) work at GenFun Laboratory in New York at which, among other things, varieties of mushrooms are being tested. When Amber, a lab assistant, accidentally knocks over one of the containers while she's trying to escape an office party, she panics and stuffs the ones that hit the floor into her purse. Not long afterward, she bumps into Mark, who sees a silvery substance on her face and wipes it off (hmmmm, could this be the first clue to a budding romance? Bosses I've worked with simply would have told her to wipe it off herself or said nothing at all).

Almost immediately, Mark is transformed into a party animal; he shocks and awes Amber with hugs and a big smooch, after which she hightails it home (I should mention that she's got relationship issues). Mark hangs around and ends up doing his lovey-dovey thing with the company CEO's daughter - never a smart thing to do. This time it turns so ugly that Mark is fired from his job even though he claims to not remember a thing (aye, maybe there's the rub; what self-respecting boss's daughter wants to be forgotten that fast)?

When she learns what happened, Amber - ever the alert lab tech - concludes that Mark's actions must be a result of exposure to the fluorescent mushroom dust. Instantly, I was reminded of one of my favorite punny jokes: Why was the mushroom a popular party guest? Because he's a real fungi! I groaned - and groaned again when the red-capped 'shrooms were likened to a part of the male anatomy (no doubt you can guess which one that might be). That image also made me rethink my love of whole mushrooms, but on the other hand I suspect that next time I need to chop them up I'll be chuckling every slice of the way.

Amber doesn't escape the company's wrath, either; she's shown the door for "stealing" the mushrooms. As she and Mark commiserate on their job losses and the odd effects on libido and sense of euphoria the dust triggered, they begin to recognize the potential for further development of some kind of drug even though it has no apparent effect on women. Instead of marketing it as a sex drug - how repulsive -  they theorize that it might have potential as an antidepressant. 

Ultimately, Amber and Mark decide to pair up to start a company and find more of the plants for testing. It turns out they came from New Zealand where (coincidentally, of course) Mark spent many years and thus is familiar with the territory. So, they gather up cash, a credit card and about a day's worth of clothing and set off in search of the source.

And that's where the trouble begins. Early on, they learn that a tribe of Maori mobsters is running  its own love scheme involving the same mushrooms. Recognizing a good thing when they've got it, the Maori don't take kindly to Mark and Amber, considering them a threat to the much-tattooed tribe's thriving business. Things quickly go from bad to worse as dead bodies start piling up - as does the possibility that Amber and Mark may be next on the growing list of victims.

As an aside, along with enjoying the adventure side of this book, I happily learned quite a bit about New Zealand, a country that's been on my want-to-visit bucket list for years. I had no idea, for instance, that eucalyptus trees grow all over the place but there are no koalas to munch on their leaves. Go figure. 

If I'm less than delighted with anything, it's romance part (but keep in mind what I said earlier - I'm not fond of bodice-rippers). My objection isn't that it's intrusive - in fact, it's quite well done. But when Amanda goes into hand-wringing angst, over-analyzing every word Mark says and turning cow-eyed when she so much as bumps up against his elbow, it's a little much for me. Chalk it up to old age and being married for 53 years, but I prefer my heroines a tad less sappy when it comes to affairs of the heart. That said, the action makes up for it, and in the end all the threads (including the romance) get woven together quite nicely to make the story complete with no hanging chads.

Except maybe one. Shalimar perfume by Guerlain, once recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive perfume in the world, is Amber's signature scent despite the fact that she spent quite a bit of time caring for her dying mother and doesn't appear to have much money. I consider myself far from poor, but unless I planned to eat a Ramen noodles every day for a year, there's no way I could afford it - so I'd love to sniff out her secret.

Oh yes, one last thing: As I neared the end of the book, I was struck by the notion that, with a minimum of tweaking, this would make a terrific movie. Just off the top of my head, I'm thinking Matthew McConaughey as Mark and a red-wigged Reese Witherspoon as Amber. Why not read the book and see what you think?

Love Poison by Pete Barber (Red Adept Publishing LLC, September 2014); 324 pp.)

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