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Holiday Reading 2003 : Funny Fiction
By David Pitt

We all need a good laugh, from time to time. Here are several good laughs, for those fun-loving people on your Christmas list.

Cadillac Beach (Wm. Morrow) is the latest Florida adventure from Tim Dorsey, who just keeps getting better and weirder. At its center is Serge Storms, the history-loving, letter-writing serial killer who's decided he wants to find out, once and for all, how his grandfather died way back in the mid-1960s. Surrounding him is an assortment of wacky supporting characters, several hilarious set pieces (like the one where Serge forces a couple in a hotel room to watch an episode of I Love Lucy on videotape -- he does have a good reason, trust me), and just oodles of frenetic fun. It's completely zany, and completely enjoyable.

Mike Nelson's Death Rat!The same can be said of Mike Nelson's Death Rat! (HarperCollins), by Michael J. Nelson, the host and writer of television's Mystery Science Theater 3000. The novel features one washed-up writer (who was never very popular), one shady publishing company (they know a good thing when they find it), one jealous author (who is very popular), one oddball musician-turned-preacher (sort of), and a whole lot of very funny goings-on. Some of the humor's a little obvious -- the hero's name is Pontius Feeb, and he certainly is a feeb -- but most of it is reasonably subtle, and always amusing. I had a lot of fun.

The X President (Bantam), by Philip Baruth, begins in 2055, when Sal Hayden is writing the biography of a former U.S. president known as BC. The U.S. is embroiled in a vicious war, a war that is a direct result of legislation enacted by BC decades earlier. When Sal is asked to rewrite BC's life, and we don't just mean his biography, the story transports itself to a different time, a different place, a different story altogether. I don't want to tell you too much about this novel, which combines science fiction and political satire and philosophy into one neat, funny package, but I will tell you this: the novel is fresh, and thought provoking, and you won't want to miss it.

Remember Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe's massive satire of the greed and superficiality of contemporary culture? Well, if you scaled the novel down considerably, narrowed its focus and made it more of an overt comedy, you'd get Present Value (Villard), the new novel by Sabin Willett. It's a bit of something new for Willett, who's two previous novels, The Deal and The Betrayal, were financial thrillers. This one's the story of Fritz Brubaker, an executive at a toy company. He has a high-powered wife, an expensive house in a ritzy neighbourhood, two children, and, wouldn't you know it, a drastically inconvenient streak of nobility. Even when Fritz is arrested for insider trading, even when his family hates him and his reputation is going down the toilet, he just can't help doing the right thing. Sometimes the humor gets a little cutesy -- a legal firm is called Elboe, Fromme & Athol, which'll make you giggle if you say it out loud -- but I like the way Willett uses the silliness to tell a story about a man with a deep moral core.

Click on a link for more fiction ... Holiday Reading 2003 : Mysteries

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