This morning I was sitting in Tully’s coffee shop in central Tokushima with tears in my eyes as I finished Lyn Miller-Lachmann‘s eco-thriller Dirt Cheap. For the past few days, I’ve been heavily absorbed in the story of community college teacher Nicholas Baran, as he fights to uncover the dirty secrets in his upscale neighborhood. See, all those great houses were built on a landfill of toxic waste and that’s why lots of people have been getting cancer, including Nick, who is racing to expose the company responsible for his demise. Of course, not everyone in the neighborhood is on his side. If word gets out, property values will plunge.
For those who know him, Nick can be exasperating in his singlemindedness. Also, he doesn’t pay enough attention to his wife, he steals rubber gloves from his doctor’s office, he lies and burps, but all these foibles just make him more human. We root for him every step of the way.
Miller-Lachmann has created a cast of wonderfully complex characters, including Nick, his wife Holly, his bullied son Tony, and Tony’s teacher, the young and idealistic Sandy Katz. She has woven their lives tightly together in this compelling – and important – story.