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Book Review: "The Tacoma Pill Junkies"

Bunch of dealers and addicts who go about their business in familiar locations in Tacoma

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Tacoma resident Joshua Swainston recently published his first novel, The Tacoma Pill Junkies. As clearly suggested by the title, the book is about a bunch of dealers and addicts who go about their business in familiar locations in Tacoma - notably the Tacoma Mall and Magoo's and Tower Lanes. The trio of dealers plot over beer in Magoo's and deals go down in the bowling alley, and the two major characters both work in the mall. Locals will recognize many of the locales as well as the character types.

It's about a corrupt cop and a couple of semi-competent rent-a-cops, a strange and irritating "Rat Boy," a trio of dealers who are not exactly bad guys but should be doing anything but what they're doing. And it's about Reno, a janitor at the mall, and Courtney, a single mother who manages a boutique. These would-be lovers stumble into one another and find refuge with one another; and they stumble into some very unsavory happenings.

As the lives of these characters play out something large and disturbing is going down in Tacoma. There's a serial killer on the loose and he's targeting, of all people, janitors in local institutions, including the mall where Reno and Courtney work.

Reno and Courtney are the good guys. They are very likeable young people in dead-end jobs whose lives are going nowhere. Reno's most endearing characteristic is his obsession with crossword puzzles; he masters them with ease even when distracted and even when stoned. He is obviously too smart to be trapped in such an unrewarding life. Courtney is dedicated to her young son and fed up with the idiots and bimbos at work.

I don't know anything about people who are addicted to pharmaceuticals or the people who illegally sell them, but the ways Swainston depicts them read as authentic.

Some of the characters in this book need more thorough development, and some of the writing is strained - as if Swainston is trying too hard to be literary instead of just telling his story, and the book could have used at least one more good edit; but overall it is a fun read about some engaging characters.

Swainston has lived in Tacoma or the surrounding area most of his life. He has been a sailor for 10 years. In that time he's sailed all around Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East. He now works as a deck hand on tugboats in Alaska.

He has been writing seriously for four years. His work has been featured in the Weekly Volcano, Wrist, The First Line and A Twist of Noir.

The Tacoma Pill Junkies is available at amazon.com.

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