Hal Ackerman Signs Stein, Stoned at The Poisoned Pen Tomorrow

Writer Hal Ackerman will visit The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale tomorrow night to sign his "soft-boiled murder mystery" novel Stein, Stoned (Tyrus Books).

After reading the book this weekend, we'd like to thank Ackerman for penning such a funny and engaging tale, and also to respectfully recommend he get a new proofreader.

Let's start with the good stuff: Ackerman's story and characters. If movies like Half Baked and Next Friday typify the culture of the Lollapalooza generation looking toward the future with bloodshot eyes, Stein, Stoned captures perfectly the mid-life crises of the Woodstock generation looking back with nostalgia.

But main character Harry Stein has a lot more to ponder than his 50th birthday.

Stein, once a guru of marijuana culture and cultivation, has been dope-free for seven years because his ex-wife threatens to take their teenage daughter. He's now an independent contractor for a product liability firm, tasked with finding thousands of missing designer shampoo bottles. Right about the time they go missing, so does a valuable crop of medical marijuana. Someone asks him to find that, too.

His dual search for shampoo and sensimilla turns into an intriguing yarn fraught with temptations, revelations, and great lines like these:

"Woody had the face of an artichoke, and when he smiled it was like an artichoke smiling."

"He had the social skills of a doorknob, and that was being unkind to doorknobs."

"You have to confirm the legitimate before you can pursue the suspicious."

"A minor success, the equivalent of winning Miss Iowa High Fructose Corn Syrup Second Runner-up."

Stein himself is lovable, but fallible. He's an aging wise-ass who kicks himself at every bad turn -- like the ones where he: finds a dead body, flies to Amsterdam, turns down sex, and puts his daughter in danger. He asks the obvious question: What does all this have to do with shampoo? And he'll discover the answer -- if he doesn't get too much soap in his eyes or mind-blastingly good marijuana in his lungs.

The plot is cleverly layered with handfuls of unusual suspects, and near the end of the novel, Stein realizes something very important -- while he's very, very high -- that he will not remember in the next chapter. So we had the added excitement of waiting for him to have an epiphany flashback while everything else unravels perilously around him.

Overall, Stein, Stoned is a great, light read, the kind of book you could devour in a few hours on a plane. Ackerman's writing style is witty, and he deftly weaves traditional elements of mystery around unconventional characters and vividly described settings.

Our only complaint about the paperback edition was the huge amount of typos, like this one from page 200: "the retirn flight from Amstgerdam." Honestly, we wouldn't mention a few typos that only English or journalism geeks might notice, but this copy had lots of obvious errors. Thankfully, it's mildly distracting from an otherwise entertaining and smooth reading experience.

Hal Ackerman signs Stein, Stoned at 7 p.m. Tuesday, August 10 at The Poisoned Pen, 4014 N. Goldwater Boulevard, Suite 101 in Scottsdale. Call 480-947-2974 or visit www.poisonedpen.com for more information.

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