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The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump
by Harry Turtledove
Baen, $7.99, 367pp
Published: 1993

Turtledove is pretty well-known now as an alternate-history writer but once upon a time, he delivered quite a different story.  This is one of the most gloriously chuckle-ridden, laugh-out-loud stories I’ve ever enjoyed.

Inspector David Fisher works for the EPA – Environmental Perfection Agency – in Angels City, in southern California.  In a world of magic, he is a minor bureaucrat who develops environmental impact studies – determining the impact of particular magical events.  One very early morning, he gets a phonecall from an old associate who works in the EPA back in the District of St. Columba, on the east coast.  Charlie tells David that there are some disturbing reports in his area – around the area of the local spell dump.  The reports are actually pretty horrifying – it suggests that something pretty toxic is leaking from the dump and affecting the local populace.  Three children in the past year were born without a soul and there are more reports of vampirism and lycanthropy than the normal average.  But there isn’t enough evidence for the government to come down on the dump; that’s David’s job – find the hard evidence.  The dump is where companies put the by-products of their particular industry: electronics, textiles, and even government defense contractors.

From there it is actually a pretty standard detective story.  David makes contact with and establishes a tentative cordial association with the manager of the dump who is just as mystified about from where the leak is coming. But David’s investigation is blocked by the dump’s management who are very nervous about their customers’ privacy.  The customers who become aware of the investigation do their best to either cajole or threaten David into leaving them alone.

As events escalate, David and his fiancée, Judy, have their lives threatened which only makes them even more determined to discover the truth.  But much more than their sense of duty is at stake; the truth is:  the fate of nothing less than the whole world is at stake.

Pretty standard plot, eh?

But this book is anything but standard.  What makes this special is that Turtledove has taken all the mundane and ordinary facets of everyday life and turned them on their ear.  And he doesn’t do it tongue-in-cheek, this is the real world for David and Judy.  But the reader will have great fun comparing the differences such as Golden Steeples to Golden Arches, for example. But it’s way more involved than just that example; the use to which he puts magic to address ordinary things is nothing short of brilliant:  phones, clocks, toasters, public transportation. All are grounds for snorts, chuckles, groans and occasionally, even an out-loud laugh.

The plot is substantial and well-done.  The characters are interesting and detailed enough to keep us vested in their fate.  And I am full of admiration for Turtledove’s ability to continue coming up with more and more twists on the ordinary without losing sight of the story or slowing the pace.  It was masterful.  I just loved it. ~~ Catherine Book

For more titles by Harry Turtledove click here

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