Berkley, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD
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Reviewed by David Pitt
kay, I'm gonna forgive Dave Barry for making me wait three years for his new novel.
, you may recall, was his first one, published in September of 1999. I'm a blithering fan of Barry's humor writing; I've read everything he's published in book form, and I visit his page on the Miami Herald website so frequently someone there must think I'm either deeply in love with the man, or certifiably mad.
nyway, I cracked open
with a certain trepidation: it ain't every columnist who can write a good novel, and Barry was stepping into some pretty high-powered territory: '
the bunch of South Florida Wackos genre
,' as he put it in his introductory remarks. Which meant, of course, instant comparison with the likes of Carl Hiaasen, another columnist-cum-novelist whose books winningly combine humor and fast-paced adventure.
thrilled me. It is a wonderful novel -- not just a wonderful
novel, but simply wonderful. So I stampeded through it and waited, drooling slightly in anticipation, for his next one. Now, finally, here it is, and guess what: it's even better than
. Barry's hand seems steadier, his characters subtler, his plot even wackier. This is his second novel, but it isn't just more of the same; it's bigger, faster, more exciting, a clearly talented writer still stretching his imagination.
, and I don't want to give too much away, features an assortment of characters, many of them not what you might call upstanding citizens, who wind up, for various reasons, aboard the Extravaganza of the Seas, an offshore gambling vessel, while Tropical Storm Hector does his best to turn the boat, and its passengers, to kindling. Here we have Johnny and the Contusions, the ship's band; a couple of old geezers from a retirement home; a cocktail waitress who'd rather be pretty much anywhere else; some professional criminals; a killer or two; and various and sundry supporting players. Here we have a plot that involves a crooked businessman, some very illegal merchandise, and a great deal of money.
arry, who's always known how to get a laugh, has a genuine narrative gift, a knack for building a picture in our minds while he's making us chuckle. Here's Barry, early on in the novel, telling us about Johnny and the Contusions: '
At one wedding reception, they'd been ordered, by the mother of the bride, to perform
I Will Survive
, the angry anthem of dumped women everywhere. The band members played a quick round of Rock, Paper, Scissors to see who had to sing it; the loser was Johnny, who mumbled it in a soft falsetto, staring at his shoes, accompanied by the mother of the bride, who stood in the middle of the dance floor, alone, shrieking the words in the direction of the table where the father of the bride sat with his new trophy wife.
f you're a fan of Barry's Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columns, you might recognize some bits and pieces here: a brief discussion about prunes (now they're called dried plums); some bad-song titles; and a riff on local news programs. He's not repeating himself, not recycling his columns, so much as revisiting some subjects that amused him (and us). This is good, because it gives us one of the world's funniest subplots, the continuing (mis)adventures of the plucky NewsPlex Nine team, whose efforts to bring their viewers live coverage of Tropical Storm Hector keep failing in the most spectacular ways.
'm sitting here trying to think of some way to express my deep satisfaction and delight with
, and here it is: the best, most consistently funny writer of comedy-adventures is Donald E. Westlake, creator of the Dortmunder series. He's been making us laugh for three decades, and I've always said that his gifts were unmatched by anyone currently writing. But after only two novels, Barry is already approaching Westlake territory.
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