A Cure To Die For

A Cure To Die For_StephenGMitchell_11360025




Maury Bernstein has been murdered high in the mountains outside of Helena, Montana. He has been killed in a contract hit ordered by his employer, Rxon, a pharmaceutical manufacturer. It seems that, in being tasked to develop a cure for the common cold, he has developed a cure for cancer – and any other bacterial or viral illness hanging about. Faced with financial ruin if all their current products became worthless, Rxon sets about eliminating Maury, all his research, and anyone who knows about the research.

The new drug is called Cannastar, a genetically structured hybrid of the poisonous Deathstar plant and the cannabis plant – good old marijuana. So, not only is the drug a financial threat, it is illegal because of the marijuana connection. Our story then becomes the tale of five people’s efforts to get this drug out to the general populace while managing to stay alive and un-incarcerated at the same time. The two main protagonists are Alex Farmer, a doctor from L.A., and Cyd Seeley, Maury’s research assistant. The three main supporting characters are Otis Appleseed, the local coroner, funeral director and hydroponic gardening expert; Eloise Funk, a Rxon employee blackmailed into spying on the project; and Annie Seeley, wife of Senator Sam Seeley and an accomplished botanist.

And the villain of the piece would appear to be Sam Seeley, a United States Senator clearly in the pocket of Rxon. But he is not the real villain. In the end, we are – at least the “we” that constitutes those people who take media stories, press conferences, religious proclamations and government reports for anything other than the egocentric, manufactured tripe that they often are.

If a book could be rated only on its descriptive prose, this one would, on a scale of 1 to 5, merit a 10. The manner in which Mitchell weaves his adjectives, metaphors and similes creates a clear visceral image, both intellectually and emotionally. Take the first line of the novel, for example:

“Like any date with destiny, this one was blind.”

But an even better example is when the author introduces Senator Seeley into the story:

“Like a shark is the perfect eating machine, Senator Sam Seeley was the perfect political machine. He was a short, dumpy man who made up for any limitation in size by being overly cruel. He had a big mouth, brass balls, no integrity, no morality and was not burdened with anything resembling a sense of right and wrong. 

So what could take such a high regard down to the ultimate rating of three stars? Three things – a female protagonist whom I came to despise, a chapter entitled “Cowboys and Indians,” and the novel’s ultimate descent into political and social rhetoric.

First, the female protagonist, Cyd Seeley, is verbally vicious and emotionally unstable. She goes past the concept of “flawed” straight to “broken” and “terminally stupid.” She is self-involved and feels she can hold others to standards that she does not have to maintain herself and can punish others, even at gunpoint, should they fail to meet her unspoken criteria. Even though she holds advanced degrees in the biomedical field, she clearly illustrates the old phrase of “educated beyond her level of intelligence.” Before the novel is complete, she can be held responsible for over 90% of the legal and physical problems that the team encounters. Quite frankly, I reached the point where I just wanted to throw her off a cliff so that the others – and the drug – could survive.

Secondly, the chapter entitled “Cowboys and Indians” contains a set of scenes where Cyd’s ex-fiancé, an American Indian, rescues her and Alex from a team of hit men who happen to be cowboys working at one of Senator Seeley’s ranches. The author never explains how the ex-fiancé and half the reservation knew she was in trouble, let alone where she was being held. And the “cowboys” are wrenched out of their previous characterizations and made to look like buffoons.

Thirdly, the author spends the final quarter of the book alternating between action scenes and socio-economic and political rhetoric, thinly disguised as television and newspaper reports. Originally published in 2011, this story was written well before the large-scale revision of laws governing medical marijuana growth and sales that began in Colorado in early 2014. Regardless, the literary device used by the author to preach the need to revise the laws was just too often applied and became tiresome.

Political preaching aside, the action scenes are well written, even if the premises behind several are weak and even if Cyd’s stupidity leads to most of them. If nothing else, this story serves as a cautionary tale that spells out exactly what you shouldn’t do if you have an idea that could step on someone’s economic toes. 

I received a copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads Program. That fact did not influence my opinion of the book in any way.

Cover Art by Goodreads


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