Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mining indictment heavy-handed fiction

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FIRST, you get everyone's attention with a dumb pun in your title. Then submit an indictment of Canadian mining companies disguised as a novel.

In his heavy-handed fictional debut, a Nova Scotia-based environmental activist, conflict mediator and organic farmer trumpets the harm caused to developing world communities by companies operating offshore.

Stephen Law tries to reel in readers by depicting a fictitious Canadian company's complicity in covering up the harm caused when its poisonous tailings pollute the water supply.

Tailings of Warren Peace, released by a Winnipeg publisher, starts in contemporary Toronto, where the title character, a mild-mannered 20-something graveyard caretaker, begins a romance with an attractive and intelligent law student.

They find posters with such sentences as "They hit my big brother" and "My village died" displayed on lamp posts in a Toronto suburb.

These cryptic messages turn out to be a recently arrived Guatemalan's pitiful way of publishing horrid events occurring in her homeland.

It's an effective opening, which leads to the main characters becoming involved in a watchdog group intent on obtaining proof that mining companies are causing harm to developing countries like Guatemala.

This convenient but entirely believable intersecting of purposes is helped by a crisp writing style, but it could have been done without the poorly camouflaged hints that much of Canada's corporate world is corrupt.

For example, the offending gold mining company is called "Magma International" and the company that eventually takes it over is "Barron Gold." These names may amuse the Stronach family at Magna International and the Munks at Barrick Gold, but Law's decision to call his protagonist Warren Peace likely has Tolstoy's ghost groaning in pain.

Another distraction is a confusing structure featuring an overlapping of past and present events.

Frequent switches in time and place are interruptions to an otherwise engaging story about corporate heavies adept at thwarting the good intentions of environmental and human-rights activists.

Just when readers are hoping that the criminal actions by Magma International will be exposed in civilized courtrooms, the plot veers toward a world suited to James Bond.

Unfortunately, Warren is a pale image of Ian Fleming's hero, and readers may find it a stretch to believe in some of the plot coincidences.

Warren and the Guatemalan message-poster travel to her homeland to obtain evidence of the mining company's complicity in hiding the bodies of indigenous children poisoned by cyanide used in gold mining. While there they pose as Canadian inspectors.

Their ruse is uncovered by armed company overseers, but the fake inspectors easily flee the sprawling complex through a long tunnel supposedly dug by just one Guatemalan miner. Talk about a working-class hero.

In spite of its shortcomings, Tailings of Warren Peace succeeds in mimicking the real, often unholy alliances between corporate interests, global politics and Canadian investors looking for a high rate of return.

Yet fictional overkill, even the kind based on facts, can be a double-edged sword, and readers must decide if well-intentioned activists like Law would better serve their cause by publishing only verifiable data.

Joseph Hnatiuk is a retired teacher in Winnipeg.

Tailings of Warren Peace

By Stephen Law

Roseway/Fernwood, 262 pages, $20

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 J8

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