This week’s review is a little different as it includes a big thank you to Ross Pennie, the author of Up in Smoke. After hearing this book mentioned on CBC radio, our book club chose this novel for our June read and invited Ross to join us. To our delight, he accepted and we enjoyed a terrific evening discussing the characters, learning about the cigarettes from Six Nations (even handling a bag of Rollies that he brought), hearing a bit about his memoir and understanding his writing process.
The novel told the tale of Zol Szabo, an acting Medical Officer of Health dealing with a crisis of high school students and first responders dying of liver failure. Zol and his interesting team of colleagues rushed to solve the cause, putting themselves at risk investigating the illegal cigarette trade on the Native Reservation in an effort to ensure no further deaths.
The characters were intriguing and the consensus of the book club was that although the book can be read on its own, we want to read the first two books, Tainted and Tampered, to understand the characters more fully. Ross shared that he starts writing his novels once he has fully developed a character and it was great to ask questions and hear more about Zol and his team.
It was refreshing to read a novel with a local setting. We recognized the street names, cities and local landmarks. The setting was a mix of accurate locations along with fictional place such as the Grand River Basin and Caledonian University. This made it easy for local readers to actually picture the environment as the novel unfolded.
If you are looking for summer reading, my recommendation would be to start with his first novel, Tainted followed by Tampered and then Up In Smoke. His memoir, describing two years practicing as a new doctor in Papua New Guinea will be one of my next reads. The books are available at the Brant Community Health Care System (Brantford General Hospital) gift shop with proceeds donated to the hospital foundation (for those of you who do not live locally, you can buy them at regular book stores as well).
Thank you again, Ross Pennie. We look forward to the next adventure of Zol Szabo!!