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Brian DeFoe
Herbvana tells the story of an ill-fated partnership between an illicit marijuana farmer who wants to go legitimate, Barry Jones, and a shady lawyer, Marshall Owens. Their store is successful but they're being extorted by a corrupt Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board officer. Things go from bad to worse when Marshall catches Barry stealing product from their store. In the confrontation that follows, Marshall ends up dead. Unbeknownst to Barry, Marshall had previously commissioned organized crime to kill the corrupt LCB agent - who is also found dead. Once bones begin washing ashore on the beach of picturesque Bainbridge Island, and the agent is found dead in his truck on a deserted logging road, local law enforcement must work together to solve the case.
In this twisty debut, attorney and Bainbridge Island resident DeFoe mines both experiences to create a surprising tale about murder and mayhem connected to a Washington State cannabis dispensary called Herbvana. Sleazy lawyer-turned-dispensary co-owner Marshall is reveling in all his weed-related income provides—including a yacht dubbed the Mary Jane and barely legal women any time he wants—when a scheming employee named Lilith sets her target on taking over the operation. Working with Marshall’s somewhat simple-minded partner, Barry, Lilith takes advantage of a questionable accident and a dirty cop on the take to set her plan in motion, spurring events that will forever change the lives of Bainbridge Island residents.

This fast-paced story, illuminating the still-evolving dynamics of the legal marijuana trade during the late Obama years, will captivate readers up for crime, a brisk and canny chatter, and the occasional jolt of action. DeFoe’s tale doesn’t shrink from the gruesome—a human head in a crabbing pot, a devious woman literally fileting a nemesis for food for sea creatures—but employs such details for more than shock; instead, Herbvana demonstrates the lengths to which corrupt individuals will go to protect their interests. The perspectives of supporting characters, such as internet fame-seeking teenager Leaf, solid cops Sarah and John, and Internal Affairs officer Eleanor, are finely drawn, each distinctive and adding depth to the narrative.

Readers will sympathize most with slightly dopey Barry, whose ambition is to share his passion, marijuana, with others to make them happy, while all around him are plotting for their own personal gain. Crooked cop Earl is so odious that readers won’t waste a lot of time feeling sorry for him, reflecting the author’s skill in spinning a world that seems eminently possible. The storytelling is agreeably loose, fitting the milieu, but never slack.

Takeaway: Briskly told thriller of the Washington State weed biz circa 2012.

Comparable Titles: Nick Petrie’s Light it Up, T. Coraghessan Boyle’s Budding Prospects.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-