The buzz on ‘BUZZD’

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Sample Martha's Vineyard Raw Honey at Michael West's author's talk this Tuesday, Sept. 9 at the Vineyard Haven Library. — Photo by Michael Cummo

“BUZZD – The Bee Kill Conspiracy” by Michael West, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, August 2014. 390 pages, $17.95.

I’m an unabashed lover of crime fiction. I’m often the guy buying the new Robert Parker paperback off the spinning book rack at the grocery store.

I have a few friends and family members who share this love with me, who appreciate the zippy dialogue, the characters so clearly imagined, the economy of every page towards service to the whole, the beautiful and familiar descriptions of Boston. That’s how Michael West’s book “Xoc,” the first in his Martha’s Vineyard Eco-Thriller series, found its way into my hands.

It was late February 2014 on the Vineyard and my daughter was being born at the hospital. We were camped out there for a few days and there was no better time or place for a good book. “Xoc” delivered in a big way, and of course now I’ll always think of it as the book I was reading when life took a major turn for the better.

When the second book in the series came out, “BUZZD,” I was already all-in. It was a good gamble because Mr. West has upped the ante and added so many more layers and dimensions to this story that it’s hard to know where to begin the praise.

Let’s start with his masterful handling of the setting of the book, Martha’s Vineyard. Some of the town and road names have been changed back to older Wampanoag and earlier European names, while many people, businesses, and places are current and real. It’s Mr. West’s understanding of the subtler forces that drive the Vineyard and the world’s economy that really draws us in, because anyone who lives here can relate to what these characters have to go through just to get by on this wealthy island.

The Island is a force unto itself, a character in the book so fully realized that it almost has flesh and blood. There’s a great respect for this place that permeates the story, a respect grounded in a deeper awareness about the state of the world. Without being preachy, and within the form of an exciting, action-packed thriller, Mr. West manages to awaken the sleeper inside of us:

“Dale was ambitious, but he was also a highly moral man. So he found himself in conflict a lot of the time. He wasn’t ideally suited to working in the highest levels of government. At the top, I don’t suppose I have to tell you, the government’s an amoral environment. Everyone there accepts that the ends have already justified any means possible.”

The characters feel like people I know, and some of them I do. There’s a constant and compelling tension in the dialogue from beginning to end. You could say that following the story is like peeling an onion or you could say it’s like cutting a pomegranate in half, scoring each half of the exterior rind, holding the pomegranate half over a bowl and smacking it with a large spoon to extract the fruit, and then having a delicious snack of pomegranate fruit, which you could never do with an onion.

Without giving away too much, “BUZZD” is the story of what happens on Martha’s Vineyard when a young Marine veteran finds work, romance, and a place in the community, and then finds himself caught up in a lethal power struggle involving major agribusiness, the Providence mob, the FBI, local police, George Davis, and your next door neighbor.

As a musician I’m always searching for ways to compel people within the confines of the form of a song, ways to let it breathe enough to allow people to find their own ways in the spaces to expand their minds and hearts. I admire the way Mr. West is able to sprinkle so many pearls of wisdom within a book that on the surface seems like a strap-on-your-seatbelt-white-knuckle-thrill-ride (hmm, not a bad band name). It’s not just a wisdom about the effects of the abuse of power, but perhaps more importantly, a wisdom about the subtleties of inter-personal relationships. Trust, honesty, integrity, courage, patience. Age-old virtues.

I really can’t recommend this book enough. I can’t wait for the next in the series. Buy it, download it, borrow it, just read it.

Author’s Event: Get BUZZD, and A Taste of Honey, 7 pm, Tuesday, Sept. 9, VIneyard Haven Library. With author Michael West, and sample honey by Monica Miller.

Rob Myers is a long-time Vineyard resident who has worked as a dishwasher, house-painter, farmer, carpenter, sailing instructor, fruit-picker, grocery clerk, waiter, lifeguard, teacher, actor, musician, event-planner, roofer, street-performer, oyster-shucker, DJ, boat-crew, gas station attendant, landscaper, voice-over artist, and writer.