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Book Review: Deadman’s Bust by Cory Marchese

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California’s Humboldt County has been home to an interesting breed of outlaw for many years now. While I am certain that the local boosters hate it, Humboldt has been synonymous with pot-growing operations since (at least) the ‘70s. The dense woodlands, mild climate, and relative remoteness of the place have made it the outdoor growing capital of the West for years. I must say, it is a stunningly beautiful area, with the Redwood National Forest on one side of the highway, and the ocean on the other. For author Cory Marchese, Humboldt provides an excellent backdrop for his first novel, Deadman’s Bust.

The story is set in 1992, and opens at the home of 25-Year-old John, and his 21-year-old brother Mike. The young growers are essentially orphans. Their mother died in 1983, and their father is rotting in a Thai prison on drug charges. The action is fast and furious, as the two are greeted by DEA agents storming their house, shouting obscenities, and shooting. Mike gets away, but John is caught. The problem is, these DEA agents seem to be “off the reservation.” The growers community is a fairly tight one, and Mike’s friends are convinced that something more sinister than a simple bust is going on.

As it turns out, there is a great deal more at stake than first meets the eye. Over the course of this 250-page novel, Marchese has created a real page-turner. The adventure takes us right into the heart of George H. W. Bush’s “War on Drugs,” the Medellin cartel, rogue cops, and a huge pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Deadman’s Bust as the knowing tone of something like Robert Sabbag’s classic Snowblind. When it comes to books about the drug trade, it is very easy to tell whether the author knows what he is talking about, or just painting by the numbers. As I suspected, Cory Marchese does know this world, as the Author’s Note explains. He has spent time in both Humboldt County, and prison (on drug charges). Clean and sober now, he has a strong voice, and has crafted a riveting account of a world that may look glamorous on the outside, but is brutal on the inside.

There is plenty of action in the novel, but there is a deep sadness about it as well. I certainly would not want to rob anyone of the ending, but I will say that it is not in any way what I would consider an obvious one. Marchese’s ability to make us sympathize with some very questionable characters is a real talent, and one which should serve him well in the future.

He is off to a great start with Deadman’s Bust, for this is a book with a highly intriguing premise, told with the authority of someone who sounds as if he were there. The musical cues that provide a sense of the period are well-chosen.

But the most interesting manner in which Marchese evokes the weirdness of the first President Bush era is through the eyes of a guy who participated in Desert Storm. He is gung-ho, and an excellent addition to the team. But his comments about the U.S. “beating a country the size of California, then crowing about it” still ring true. I remember that very creepy “bully” feeling all too well. To act like Desert Storm was a war between equal powers was absurd. To add to the validity of the comment in the book, it comes from a veteran. And just to be clear, I have heard similar sentiments with my own ears from guys who were there.

Deadman’s Bust is not a political book, though. I beleive that Marchese’s goal is to bring the era to life by including these comments, rather than making any policy statements. Deadman’s Bust is recommended, and I look forward to reading more from this promising new. author.

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About Greg Barbrick