cover image The Nicotine Chronicles

The Nicotine Chronicles

Edited by Lee Child. Akashic, $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-61775-859-1

The varied latest collection in Akashic’s Drug Chronicles Series (The Marijuana Chronicles) focuses on smoking over the course of 16 stories that see characters battle their demons and set their moral baselines. The most successful entries delve bone-deep into addiction, as characters smoke to smother physical pain, loneliness, and their days. In Child’s “Dying for a Cigarette,” a stubborn screenwriter adds smoking into his script as a way to indicate “a small human weakness,” not realizing his smoke breaks during a lunch with producers allow the Hollywood execs to exploit his own weakness and get their way. Joyce Carol Oates’s “Vaping: A User’s Manual” follows a high school athlete’s account of his vape addiction, which deepens after his mother’s cancer worsens. A cop in Bernice L. McFadden’s “God’s Work” kidnaps girls for a black-market ring run by a priest, all the while judging others based on their smoking habits. Despite the obvious reasons not to smoke, quitting would often be too much of a sacrifice, as a character in Eric Bogosian’s “Smoking Jesus” realizes. Some stories, however, simply employ cigarettes as props, making the collection feel padded. At the high points, these writers capture the mental gymnastics behind the characters’ bad decisions, and the joy such bad decisions can bring. (Sept.)