C. Mike Reid

"The Popejoys of Pistolburg"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark MAY 6, 2001)

"I'm not sure we've actually broken any laws. Is it written somewhere that you have to own land before selling it?"

Bosco Popejoy is the smart one in his family. He's got a good job over the Idaho border in Washington State delivering pizza on weekends and during the week he delivers firewood for his daddy. He's been learning new vocabulary from his "word a day" calendar and he's got the seed of an idea that's going to bring in some big money, if not a little time in "the pokey" if he's not real careful.

These days the TV news programs are consumed with an extortion story. Someone has blackmailed the walnut farmers out of a lot of cash by releasing a controlled amount of the Indonesian Stimite worm into a local crop thus threatening to ruin the entire industry. Perhaps the success of this scam is making Bosco a little bolder regarding his own get rich scheme. No matter, it's when he meets up and gets reacquainted with his high school crush Gwen Tipp that "Operation Gordon Surprise" gets solidified.

Gwen works as a flag girl for InterGlobal, a government contractor that is currently realigning a stretch of road in front of the Popejoy property, which Bosco's daddy is none to happy about. Gwen's own personal history includes an embezzlement charge from when she misplaced some bank deposits while working at Buster's Large Appliance. She's just completed 100 hours of community service, is paying restitution through garnished wages and is monitored by a malevolent probation officer. So even though Gwen starts off by saying that she wants to keep her distance from this scam, she's attracted to criminality and to what she calls Bosco's "dangerous aura." Besides, she's a natural con and between the two, is the one who puts the details together for this inventive real estate swindle.

About Bosco's aura, the only danger emanating from him is his own lack of worldliness in a town where everyone seems to have a shady deal going, especially his own daddy. To get to his pizza delivery job or to deliver cord wood, he drives through a manned US Border Patrol station that shares space with an Agriculture Inspection station. His daddy knows that locals are flagged by on their daily commute and takes advantage of this by placing containers of contraband in Bosco's old postal wagon (that he proudly refers to as his Jeep) or the twenty year old Ford 600 he uses for firewood delivery. Bosco doesn't even think to question any of this illicit activity, he just knows it as part of his daily routine. Gwen's the one that's curious about the people who seem to be tinkering around Bosco's vehicles whenever they are parked for any length of time. But as "Operation Gordon Surprise" gains momentum, Gwen is pleasantly surprised to learn that her own family has a depth of criminality.

At any rate, this novel will have you chuckling as you anticipate the outcome. Every one of the characters in this novel has some quirky habit that's hard to forget. C. Mike Reid succeeds in juggling the plot between the real land owners, the would-be marks, and all of the supporting events that in one way or another help this haphazard scam come to fruition.

Tangled in this and supporting the causality of the outcome is the daily lives of the poor Popejoy family, Gwen's fellow road crew, Gwen's aunt and roommate, and dozen other no opts. Throughout this novel is an overriding desire to find a way to get more than one's current share. As Bosco says when he and Gwen are thinking about the money, that he just wants to further his social education, gain a little experience, like "tour a cigar factory, learn to ski jump, use an ATM, rent a tuxedo... I've never flown in a plane, rode on a train -- shoot, I don't even know how to go about hailing a taxicab. I see these things on TV and it makes me want to join in."

One reason that I like to read novels is the chance to peek into how people might live in other parts of the country or world. The Popejoys of Pistolburg genuinely meets Reid's intention to "present people living through plausible situations for the enjoyment of the the good-humored reader." In fact, he fulfills a shameless curiosity entertaining us with this ignoble cast of characters.

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About the Author:

C. Mike ReidC. Mike Reid (Cleland Reid, Jr.) lives on a farm in North Idaho where he writes in the winter and "chases the elusive trout" in the summer. He's currently at work on his fourth novel.

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