The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, by Harry Turtledove

The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump

David Fisher pushes paper for the EPA in a world that’s a lot like ours… only different. In this California—and throughout the alternate United States—all gods are real, science doesn’t exist, and magic rules everything, running imp-driven computers and creating anxiety-inducing bumper-to-bumper flying-carpet rush hours. Unfortunately, unchecked magic use can leave dangerous residues, creating hours of mind-numbing deskwork for David and his fellow bureaucrats at the Environmental Perfection Agency. Now a leakage at a toxic spell dump in Angels City is about to complicate David’s life in ways he never imagined, unleashing vampires, werewolves, and soulless babies. Even the actual spooks at the CIA concerned. But looking too closely into what might be more than just an accident could have David stepping on the toes of some very nasty deities indeed, imperiling his future on the Other Side… and on this one, as well.

You may have read my review of Bombs Away. In it, I complained about what I coined as the “Turtledove Formulaic Doctrine.” I went on to say that some of the best works of Turtledove were the ones that weren’t part of a series. The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump (TCTSD) was recommended by an internet colleague. I’d wanted to read it in the **checks watch** twenty-two years since TCTSD was first published, but time, life, and finances had prevented me from reading it.

I’ve fervently enjoyed Turtledove’s stand-alone works for three decades. When Turtledove is doing one of his series, there’s a certain expectation that the reader is familiar with the previous works in the series. He doesn’t make you read it cold, but the back-story is sometimes lacking. This isn’t the case with TCTSD. I can appreciate that Turtledove wrote this story based on a humorous comment at a panel during a convention in Tuscon.

I won’t call TCTSD punny, per se, but there is quite a bit of blatant, and tongue-in-cheek humor with more than one groan-worthy pun. I’ve often enjoyed Turtledove’s non-alternate history stories including the Krispos series, Between the Rivers, the Darkness series, and my all-time favorite: Household Gods, co-written with Judith Tarr. I’m happy to include TCTSD among these favorites.

The best way to describe TCTSD is by saying it’s a mash up of Harry Potter, and the TV series Supernatural, with a sprinkling of American Gods, by Neil Gaimen. Of course, Turtledove beat J.K Rowling to the punch by four years and Eric Kripke by more than a decade.

The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump is a great read, and each chapter ends with you promising yourself “one more chapter.” The only reason I’d give TCTSD four stars instead of five, is that it wouldn’t be universally accepted, and there were enough proofreading issues to require another pass-through.


Dr Harry Norman Turtledove is an American novelist, who has produced a sizeable number of works in several genres including alternate history, historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction. Turtledove has been dubbed “The Master of Alternate History”. His novels have been credited with bringing alternate history into the mainstream. His style of alternate history has a strong military theme. Turtledove is married to fellow novelist Laura Frankos. They have three daughters: Alison, Rachel, and Rebecca.


About Mark Gardner

Mark Gardner lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children and a pair of spoiled dogs. Mark holds a degrees in Computer Systems and Applications and Applied Human Behavior. View all posts by Mark Gardner

3 responses to “The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, by Harry Turtledove

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