Business as Usual is the premiere mystery novel by Toronto poet Michael Boughn. It illustrates that a lot can happen during a month in 1993 when professor and botanical consultant Claire Dumont is contacted by distressed client and friend, winemaker Philippe Beaujour, to investigate a devastating stretch of wilted and dying vines and surrounding vegetation that could threaten his livelihood.
Accompanied by her paramour, writer and part time university instructor David Sanders, Claire determines the cause to be environmental contaminants, in the form of toxins and industrial waste. Thwarted and confused by the Ontario government’s response to her report, she is driven to find the truth. David accompanies her, likewise concerned, but also seeing an opportunity for career advancement in investigative journalism. Playfully dubbing themselves as Nick and Nora Charles, with David being Nora, they leave their day jobs largely behind, and take the investigation into their own hands.
We soon discover that truth is a nebulous concept. Danger looms perilously close, as multiple plots involving illegal dumping, government corruption, and low level Mafia crime lords are woven into the mix, as Claire and David unknowingly place their lives and careers in serious peril as they sink deeper into the muddle.
Business as Usual has a light, fresh appeal, with an entertaining and interesting playful rapport between the likeable Claire and David, which promises a fun read. Unfortunately, that disappears as the plot becomes more serious, complex and a bit confusing, as the reader tries to recall who’s who and connect the dots.
The toxic waste, especially the organized crime components are a bit dry, and predictable: The Mafia does Mafia things. The plot, much later, leaps into the excitement zone when Claire and David nose around a bit too much, and make stupid amateur mistakes.
Business as Usual needs tightening up. Also, maintaining the lightness and play between Claire and David would raise the entertainment value considerably, and if there’s a sequel, perhaps nudge the characters into the spotlight as popular contemporary crime sleuths. The potential is there.