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“This book does for the pot trade what Melville did for whaling”—who can resist a back-jacket blurb like that? Not me, apparently. I plunked down my hard-earned cash for Hal Ackerman’s Stein, Stoned and enjoyed the read—that is, at least the parts I can remember. Reading Bill Ott’s review got me thinking about some other good books featuring characters for whom the phrase “wake and bake” doesn’t have anything to do with firing up the oven.
Baked. By Mark Haskell Smith. 2010. Black Cat, paper, $14 (9780802170767).
When L.A. botanist Miro Basinas wins the prized Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam with a wickedly strong strain called Elephant Crush, he’s on his way to breaking into the upper ranks of cannabis breeders. He’s caught off guard, however, when the greedy owner of a chain of medical marijuana dispensaries decides to steal his plants and plant him six feet under. Although Smith’s plots sometimes read like pipe dreams, fans of absurdist humor will inhale this one in a hurry.
The Best Thing That Can Happen to a Croissant. By Pablo Tusset. 2005. Canongate, paper, $14 (9781841957159).
Pablo Miralles, rotund scion of a wealthy Barcelona family, is intelligent, belligerent, profound, profane, and, above all, lazy. He sleeps late, drinks and does drugs, hires hookers, and spends his spare time arguing online with the other members of the Metaphysical Club. When his serious, hardworking brother disappears, Pablo takes the case—sort of. Tusset treats the mystery simply as an excuse to let us spend time with his funny and quotable hero, who is less interested in finding his brother than he is in testing the limits of the missing man’s bank card.
How to Rob an Armored Car. By Iain Levison. 2009. Soho, $15 (9781569475997).
The economic downturn has been especially unkind to Kevin, Mitch, and Doug, twentysomething stoners who live in a depressed Pennsylvania coal town. Putting their dope-addled heads together, they decide that their economic salvation lies in crime. What kind of crime, you ask? Surely you must be smoking. The dialogue may be in “stonerese,” but Levison is a sly storyteller, and his tale is by turns funny, sad, and insightful.
Inherent Vice. By Thomas Pynchon. 2009. Penguin, paper, $16 (9780143117568).
It’s the late 1960s, and Doc Sportello, owner of LSD Investigations, is searching for missing construction mogul Mickey Wolfmann—but it’s hard to keep things straight when you’re high. Dogged by a cop named Bigfoot Bjornsen, battling memory lapses and hallucinations, Doc trusts his instincts and smokes his way out of hairy predicaments. If Columbo’s catchphrase was “Just one more thing,” Doc’s would be “Did I say that out loud?”
The Man in the Blizzard. By Bart Schneider. 2008. Three Rivers, paper, $14.95 (9780307238139).
It’s 2008 in the Twin Cities, and neo-Nazis plan to disrupt an antiabortion rally outside the Republican Convention. Enter Augie Boyer, a sad-sack PI who moons over his divorce, smokes too much weed, and indulges a powerful hunger for fried food. “What chance does an unarmed, pothead, existentialist detective have against the genuine existentialists running around with guns in North Minneapolis?” asks Boyer. There’s a perfectly decent mystery plot in here somewhere, but the questions are just as much fun as the answers.
Stein, Stoned. By Hal Ackerman. 2010. Tyrus, paper, $14.95 (9781935562146).
Harry Stein was a countercultural hero in the sixties, thanks to Smoke This Book, his cult classic on growing weed. Now he’s a small-time PI and hasn’t smoked dope for six years, afraid of losing joint custody of his daughter, Angie. Then two cases, one of them involving a missing crop of medical marijuana, bring the past into the present. Before you can say, “Don’t bogart that joint,” Harry finds himself plunged into his old milieu, even taking a trip to Amsterdam for the Cannabis Cup. Acknowledging echoes of the Coen Brothers’ cult classic, The Big Lebowski, Bill Ott notes, “The Dude abides with Harry Stein.”
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