Books: Portrait of a BC small town stained blue by a slow death

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Maureen Brownlee | Harbor Publishing

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$22.95, 288pp.

In the early 1990s, the pine forests of British Columbia faced a disastrous beetle infestation. The pests, proliferating because of the higher temperatures brought by climate change, were boring through the rough outer bark and burrowing through the trees’ living cambium layer. Within weeks the infested trees’ sapwood was stained blue by an associated fungal infection; Soon the tree was dead, and the forest turned scabbed, dull red from drying blood.

While the forests died, rural logging and mill towns began to suffer, too. Cambium Blue, BC author Maureen Brownlee’s second novel, is set in one of those towns, the fictional Beauty Creek. Brownlee, whose well-received first book, 2013’s Loggers’ Daughters, was also set in rural BC, has worked as a journalist in a small BC town not unlike the hard-scrabble towns that provide the settings for her stories. She has also been an outfitter’s cook, a trail guide, a bookkeeper and an employment counselor. She has a keen observer’s eye for action and ear for dialogue that pays off in completely believable plot and characters. Cambium Blue is realistic fiction at its best.

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Brownlee focuses her intricate plot on three residents of Beauty Creek: Nash Malone, a Spanish Civil War veteran, Maggie Evans, the owner of the town’s local paper, the Chronicle, and Stevie Jeffers, a young single mother Evans hires as a fledgling reporter.

As shady real estate developers propose building a destination resort in the dying town and a compliant council tries to clean up the village to make it more developer-friendly, Malone’s precarious and unsightly life as Beauty Creek’s curmudgeonly garbage scavenger/hoarder is under threat. Maggie Evans is trying to keep her struggling paper operational, training the diffident young mother she has hired as a reporter and considering an offer from outside investors to buy the Chronicle.

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