Donnie Elder never imagined himself in the delivery business. But he’s been out of work and his mother is calling twice a day, so he’ll try anything. On his first day at work, Donnie gets robbed at gunpoint, and his boss has a heart attack. Now Donnie is running Arcane Transport all by himself, and problems are popping out of the woodwork. The dispatcher is angry at him for an incident involving a spilled love potion. One of the drivers has been cursed. And something is making a noise in the Lost and Found.
Hazardous Goods is the debut novel written by John A Mackie and the first in the Arcane Transport series. When I read about this book in the submissions box it really caught my attention. The idea behind the book really appealed to me and showed some daring and a new take on a urban fantasy setting. The book features an transportation company “Arcane Transport” that is not your ordinary DHL or FedEx, but better, as it handles arcane and occult packages. And not just the New Age stuff but the real arcane, this really got my hopes up.
Hazardous Goods takes place in the GTA, Greater Toronto Area, Canada and centres around Donnie Elder and on a few occasions his brother Ted. Donnie, being recently laid off of work, is now going into a partnership with the owner of Arcane Transport, Clay. However, not all is what it seems... He thought it was just another transport company but from day one he is in a surprise: Being robbed on his first day of work, and the remainder of his week are not too great a start either. Looking at the beginning of the book and the end, there was a nice transition from the character of Donnie going from a more pessimistic view on his working career and, as I perceived it, a reluctant take on his new partnership in Arcane transport to a more go for it work attitude as his weeks fly by on his job in Arcane Transport, even though it is way different now that he has to deliver packages instead of being a Marketing Director. He really grew into his new job role.
This transformation was thanks to the secondary cast of the story, the employees of Arcane Transport and I think also his brother Ted. There are enough witty references when Donnie is conversing with his brother Ted, but what I do think is that Donnie does not want to end up like Ted with no direction and direct future plans. The employees go from the senior Maggy to an college student Jamar. I liked that each character had their own events in the story, like Jamar with the cursed ring. In the beginning, at the character introduction, they proved to be a lively cast but as the story progressed I felt that the attention was drawn away from them by focusing more on the plotline with Ruscan Investments, a bit to my displeasure. For me it would have been better if the story would have revolved more around the characters and their dealing with Arcane Transport.
This brings me to the plotline. As I mentioned, the idea of an transport company dealing with the supernatural really appealed to me. And from the beginning of the book this weird, arcane and occult theme came into its own right. But there was also the introduction of the involvement of Ruscan Investments, who steal a package from Donnie and Clay, where the latter ends up in the hospital. I feel divided in my opinion about the stealing of the package adding any real value to the storyline. Taken together with the weird stuff that happens in Arcane Transport this robbing did not feel right for me. On more than one occasion there was a sudden lead into this robbing case where Donnie worked together with the police but then following up with a few weeks of radio silence, Donnie even gave them a lead into the robber but this was not directly followed up, only when Donnie took it into his own hands. This last part did not appeal to me at all. It felt too far apart from the earlier setting that was created in the book, dealing with the magical packages and the stuff that goes wrong. I had a certain expectation that this would go about the delivery of arcane packages and how the postmen would tackle some of the problems that can rise when dealing with the supernatural. There was also the introduction of the Bureau of Occult Activities all of a sudden and then they appear and do not return….
It could be that some of the elements fell more to the background because of this being the debut book and that there were too many ideas introduced that, unfortunately not all came fully to their rights.
One thing that is great in the book is the narration that follows Donnie, where he talks to himself of what he could have done better, a sort of self-reflection, this introduced a humorous element into the book. This shows a nice strength to Donnie’s character on voicing his thoughts.
All in all Hazardous Goods is a good debut novel, still a bit rough around the edges but the idea very unique and new. If John A Mackie can polish some off the edges I do think he is onto a good thing with his series.
Review by Jasper de Joode
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