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The Gnomewrench in the Dwarfworks
Nick O'Donohoe
Ace Books, 359 pages


Walter Velez
The Gnomewrench in the Dwarfworks
Nick O'Donohoe
Nick O'Donohoe's other novels include Too, Too Solid Flesh and the trilogy Crossroads (The Magic and the Healing (1995), Under the Healing Sign (1995) and The Healing of Crossroads (1996)).

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Todd Richmond

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It is autumn 1944 and World War II is raging full force across the world. In New England, Grady Cavanaugh is making a living as a salesman at Plimstubb Furnaces, a manufacturer of industrial blast furnaces. A fencing accident mere days before Pearl Harbor left Grady with a bum ankle and a 4-F draft rejection. So now he's stuck behind with the old men, women and children, working at a boring job in a dying factory. Sales haven't been great at Plimstubb, and men are being laid off. Then things start to look up for Grady. He processes two new orders, both rather strange. One is for a mysterious man named Mr Stode, while the other is for Mr Anthony Miles van der Woeden of the New Amsterdam Metalworks. Since it's the middle of the war, everyone is very careful about checking out their customers, to make sure that they are not inadvertently helping the enemy.

Mr Stode might work for the US government, though Grady has a hard time finding out anything about him. But the New Amsterdam Metalworks is definitely suspicious. They pay in cash, have no address, their telephone number leads to a pay-phone in a parking lot, and they want their furnace delivered next to a dumpster behind a truckstop. Needless to say, Grady is convinced something shady is going on and refuses to deliver the furnace until he meets the buyer in person.

Grady's instincts are good, if a bit off. Because the New Amsterdam Metalworks is run by Dwarves, not Nazis. What follows is an enchanting story. Grady manages to help out both the Dwarves and Plimstubb Furnaces, while learning more about his own job and Dwarven magic. He finds that their situations are not so different; as Grady struggles with a corrupt boss at Plimstubb, the Dwarves struggle with their reluctant business partners, the evil gnomes. Grady himself sums it up rather neatly:

"Is there something wrong with your order?"
Oh, hell, no, Grady thought. Just that we're going broke, and our boss wants to be a war profiteer, and I'm secretly getting our parts on war contracts from the Seven Dwarves. Aloud he said, "Gosh, I can't think of anything."
O'Donohoe adds a lot of extra details to this enjoyable story of World War II Americana, furnace manufacturing and mythical creatures. He conveys the feelings of fear and uncertainty surrounding WWII as friends and families desperately wait to hear word from their loved ones. Grady's bitterness at not being able to go off and fight for his country and his frustration with his bum ankle come through very clearly. O'Donohoe includes some of the things that we tend to forget about, like the dairy and gas rationing and the stars in the windows that indicated families with men overseas. He also throws in everything you ever wanted to know about blast furnace manufacturing. To add a bit of a personal touch, there are some crazy stories told about a pilot named Erwin "Curly" Larson, who is actually O'Donohoe's grandfather.

Stories similar to this have been done before -- Jody Lynn Nye's Mythology series comes to mind. But O'Donohoe adds the twist of not only putting mythological creatures into the hidden corners of our culture, but also moving the story into a part of our past that's rich with historical possibilities. I found it so enjoyable and entrancing that I finished it in one sitting. Pick it up -- I think you'll enjoy it too.

Copyright © 1999 by Todd Richmond

Todd is a plant molecular developmental biologist who has finally finished 23 years of formal education. He recently fled Madison, WI for the warmer but damper San Francisco Bay Area and likes bad movies, good science fiction, and role-playing games. He began reading science fiction at the age of eight, starting with Heinlein, Silverberg, and Tom Swift books, and has a great fondness for tongue-in-cheek fantasy Óla Terry Pratchett, Craig Shaw Gardner and Robert Asprin.


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