Jul 292013

skingThe best tropical fiction on earth sometimes arrives from unexpected directions, this time via the long renowned Master of Horror, Mr. Stephen King. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try a Stephen King novel but, frankly, found yourself a bit grossed out by the reputation, or have had the misfortune to stumble across one of the seemingly endless parade of truly terrible movie or cable television adaptations (Shawshank Redemption, The Shining, and The Green Mile are obvious exceptions).

Fret no more. Duma Key is the the book you’ve been waiting for all your life, and neatly falls onto my tropical radar due to the Sarasota-esque location on the fictional island from which the title is drawn. Since Mr. King apparently spends his winters there now, he qualifies as a Florida writer. Yippee skippee! Perhaps having tired of the brutal brain bashing of a Maine winter, and likely still lugging around a hefty collection of disparate but similar bone pains from his accident several years back, Steve-O is now tuned into the Gulf of Mexico frequency for for inspiration.

Keep in mind that Duma Key clocks in at 770 pages, so you’re going to need a long vacation to get it all in. Never fear. By the time you’re nearing the end, and events are racing forward at a fever pitch, you’ll wish it could keep going. Truly. It’s that kind of book. This story is a cat of a different flavor.

Start with the protagonist, Edgar Freemantle, a Minnesota building contractor who gets himself plastered against the door of his truck by a piece of heavy equipment in a freak work site accident. He loses an arm, messes up a hip, and suffers a dose of brain damage. While recovering, wife, Pam, does what any vow-eschewing woman would do and divorces Edgar, setting off a chain of events that land him all by his lonesome in a beach house on Duma Key. He’s never painted a bit in his life but suddenly finds himself possessed by the talent and determination to start cranking out masterpieces at an amazing rate. Turns out he literally is possessed and that can lead to trouble in a Stephen King novel.

The point here, though, is not to bore you with a blow by blow description of plot points and characters. The point is that the writing displayed by this pop-meister is some of the best damn word construction you’ll run across anywhere, any time. And it’s not slash your girlfriend across the throat with a machete schlock. This is a creepy tale that unfolds in a hypnotic march across the hundreds of pages.

Perhaps one of the most powerful aspects is that the tale is told in first person, languishing inside the head of a person who has suffered hideous injuries and is trying to find his way back through the fog of narcotic pain killers and the agony of rehabilitation to a life worth living again. We surmise this is a topic King is intimately familiar. I welcome this strong effort from Stephen King to the Florida fiction scene. Duma Key is great writing by a master at the top of his game. We wouldn’t lie. Here’s to keeping my fingers crossed the author sees fit to crank out more Florida based tales. I’d read ‘em.


Jul 292013

jhc150In a world woefully short on two-fisted, contemplative, slightly neurotic tropical knights, John H. Cunningham’s character of Buck Reilly flies his seaplane (of course) out of Red Right Return just in time to provide the kind of fictional fix we’ll always pay good money to read. With Travis McGee gone from the stage, except for treasured rereads, and Doc Ford dabbling in melodrama as time wears on, our office reviewers constantly scan the horizon for the next down and out, rough around the edges, sea bum.

Buck Reilly fits the bill perfectly.

First let’s get the plot out of the way. The festivities take place primarily in Key West, Cuba, the Bahamas, and the skyways and waterways in between. With locations like this, who the hell cares what the actual story’s about? It doesn’t hurt that Buck’s choice of locomotion between the islands is a 1946 Grumman Widgeon seaplane named Betty. Shades of Jimmy Buffett! Where IS Joe Merchant?

Need more? My, aren’t you the demanding one today. Okay, okay…

As a disgraced corporate treasure plunderer, Buck Reilly flees his former life and takes up residence in a Key West hotel managed by a hottie named Karen who’s earthly mission is to save the island’s chickens. Stuff happens and Buck gets suckered into a search for a missing group of missionaries headed to Cuba. Did we mention adventure? Maybe if adventure has a name it’s not ONLY Indiana Jones. Surely everyone’s favorite globetrotting archaeologist saved some table scraps for the likes of Buck.

Here’s the bottom line. Toss Thomas Magnum, Indy, and Travis McGee in a blender, and John H. Cunningham’s Red Right Return is the likely result. If this is your cup of tea, drink deeply. Though many continue to try their often less than skilled hand at this sort of tropical adventure writing, few succeed in crafting a tale that makes us ready to read book two right now, damn it! Get to work, Cunningham. The climactic scene of Buck’s air and water attack on the cigarette boat fleeing for Cuba with the recently abducted Karen on board in the middle of a United States Navy versus commie bastard gunboat confrontation at the edge of international waters screams Randy Wayne White or John MacDonald at work, and to our minds, that’s a good thing.

The prose in Red Right Return is perhaps a bit more workmanlike than some of the genre’s masters, but that’s okay. Too many writers don’t have the good sense to stand aside, drop the dreams of clever chatter at the door, and simply tell us a damn good story. In this book that’s exactly what John H. Cunningham has done, and that’s enough for us to raise a beer from a well-worn stool at the Green Parrot and yell for more.

Good job, John. We’re watching you, kid. Readers should keep in mind, Buck’s second book, Green To Go, is allegedly underway as we speak. Don’t forget to pester JHC ’til he gives us what we want. Also keep in mind the Kindle edition of RRR is only $2.99! That’s a hell of deal, kiddies.

~ CD

Jul 282013

shames150For years I’ve been cursing the heavens and randomly shoving small children to the floor in the local grocery store’s cereal aisle, not because I’m a bad man, but because not a single one of Laurence Shames’s loosely related Key West books were available on Kindle. To those of us here at FPF, that’s like Carl Hiaasen releasing a new book but only printing one copy and hiding it somewhere in the Everglades.

Well, in case you’re the last to know, all six of Mr. Shames’s “mafiosos’ in paradise” stories are available on the e-reader of your choice for the pittance of $2.99 each. If you don’t think this is a great deal, I want you to smack yourself in the head right now. In fact, make it six times. One for each book. Now go out and buy ‘em all before they wise up and raise the price.

On to the FPF review of Mangrove Squeeze.

We’ve got a sizable cast of characters running around town for this tropical adventure. There’s Suki Sperakis, a wannabe journalist selling ad space in Key West’s local fish wrap. Her love interest, Aaron Katz, and his senile dad, Sam, recently relocated from somewhere up north and are hellbent on restoring a rundown guest house. And we mustn’t forget Pineapple and Fred, the “homeless” gents who actually do have a home of sorts, even if it is an abandoned weinermobile tossed into the mangrove swamps east of the airport. Then there’s Bert the Shirt, a retired mobster down from New Yawk, and his arthritic chihuahua, Don Giovana.

Into this mess strides a handful of Russian mafia goons who own a bunch of t-shirt shops on Duval Street, retail establishments that are actually a front for other criminal enterprises: money laundering, stolen art, and plutonium smuggling. Wait, you’re wondering what’s so criminal about selling t-shirts on Duval Street? Obviously, you’ve never shopped there.

Though lesser known to the bestseller lists, Laurence Shames’s tropical fiction should be held in the same high esteem reserved for other Florida writers with names like Hiaasen, Dorsey, and McDonald. To be more accurate, Shames is like Hiaasen without the potty mouth and over-the-top eccentricity, or maybe Elmore Leonard with a softer edge. What he does is write great ensemble books with a sense of humor set amidst the palms and gently lapping waves, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that.

The plot? Standard stuff. Suki starts nosing around the Russian mob’s illegitimate enterprise, only to be marked for death when they find out. While the bad guys scramble to cover their rear ends from the local authorities, Aaron, Sam, Bert, Fred, and Pineapple scramble to save the day.

Read very far into Mangrove Squeeze and you’ll encounter the Shames penchant for writing dialogue in gangsterese. “Ya’ got dat?” Trust me, in his capable hands this actually works quite well. If you haven’t tried a Laurence Shames novel yet, what are you waiting for? An engraved invitation? Trust me, there aren’t many writers around this good at sticking you smack dab into the essence of the Florida Keys and holding you there ’til you scream for mercy. (Top image: Flickr | eschipul)

~ CD

Jul 282013

corcoranThere are few people writing Florida-based novels today with more street cred than Tom Corcoran. The guy co-wrote songs (“Fins” and “Cuban Crime of Passion” for those Parrotheads who might be interested) with Jimmy Buffett back in the 1970s, and sold tacos on the street corner out of his bicycle basket, for Pete’s sake! The locals knew him as Taco Tom back then.

With the recent release of The Quick Adios (Times Six), Corcoran revisits a character, Alex Rutledge, who has appeared in five or six books previously – I could look it up but does it really matter? If you decide to check out this book on Amazon, it shouldn’t be too hard to find the others.

Even though The Quick Adios is a most excellent example of what everyone here at Florida Pulp Fiction loves in beach books, I admit that several years passed between reading my first Corcoran novel and the second; now I eagerly watch for them to show up in the Kindle Store. At first read, Rutledge seems to be a Travis McGee knock-off, which isn’t a bad thing. Why not borrow from the best? But the first exposure wasn’t spectacular enough to bring us back for a second dose immediately. Nice. Not riveting.

Now I’m kind of ashamed to not have immediately realized these books ebb and flow with the kind of authentic spirit of Key West that only comes from selling tacos on the streets and rubbing elbows with Jimmy Buffett before he became a conglomerate. Whatever the reason, I’m hooked on Alex Rutledge now. So let’s get to The Quick Adios (Times Six).

Corcoran delivers a fine dose of mystery that finds Rutledge called in to photograph a crime scene again and, big surprise, he becomes involved in a doozy of a mystery that has him running back and forth between Key West and Sarasota, getting beaten up by a pugilistic bubba cop, surviving a plane crash, ogling beautiful women, spending plenty of time on his front porch, interacting with a comfortable and well-drawn cast of supporting characters, and trying to solve the mysterious death of an old girlfriend.

An Alex Rutledge book oozes tropical sights, smells, and visions from between the pages. Sure, it’s kind of hard to believe that a photographer could get caught up in so many life-threatening scenarios in one lifetime, but he is a crime scene photographer and tends to date female cops, so that makes the logical leap a bit more palatable. Actually, strike that last. Who the heck cares what machinations Mr. Corcoran uses to insert Rutledge into the fray?

It’s quite possible that, while the former king of the Florida novel, Carl Hiaasen, was wasting his time writing children’s books, Taco Tom slipped by him to claim the top spot, though we might have to arrange a death match with James W. Hall before handing out the official crown.

These days, Corcoran is that good. Believe it. (Top image: Flickr | Couch Commando)

~ Derek



Jul 262013

dorsey150[Tim Dorsey | Florida Roadkill] We can now trace the exact date that Carl Hiaasen become the reigning “old” master of Florida adventure writing, the safe, mainstream alternative to a new breed of even edgier, more over-the-top writer. It was August 1999 and that was when Florida Roadkill by Tim Dorsey hit the bookshelves. This hyperactive tale of sociopaths, alcoholics, retirement communities, and cocaine strippers stumbling around the south Florida coastline, killing off bad guys in particularly gruesome and creative fashion, all the while pursuing a suitcase with half a million dollars unknowingly stashed in the the trunk of a car driven by a pair of buddies headed for a Key West vacation set a new standard for manic literary mayhem.

Does this mean you’re going to like it? Heck no! You might hate it. Critics routinely slam Dorsey’s efforts for being a loosely plotted series of one dimensional characters no one could possibly care about. Umm, so what’s your point? That makes this a bad thing? Fifteen books into this series featuring everyone’s favorite Florida serial killer and vigilante, Serge A. Storms, along with his faithful companion, the perpetually stoned and inebriated Coleman, the duo are still cruising the state in search of the perfect day: “Florida, a full tank of gas, and no appointments.”

The events of the story are this. Serge has gone off his anti-psychotic medications. Again. Along with Coleman and a coked up stripper named Sharon, the three concoct a plan to steal insurance settlement money from an oversexed dentist. But when the money-stuffed suitcase ends up in the trunk of a mystery car, they set off on a wild goose chase that eventually leads to Key West. Along the way, Serge’s dispatches the increasingly erratic and dangerous Sharon by filling her lungs with Fix-A-Flat, while Coleman meets an untimely demise in a hail of gunfire.

Too late, Dorsey realized he still needed some of the characters lost in the pages of Florida Roadkill, and was forced to set up a later timeline in which events in subsequent books actually occur between the events of the first. Don’t bother trying to sort it all out. It really doesn’t matter. Just enjoy a Tim Dorsey book for what it is. Not your cup of tea? Fine. Don’t buy it, don’t read it, and don’t ruin it for everyone else with your incessant whining and literary snobbery. Part travelogue and part outraged conscience of the world’s tourist destination, this trigger happy writing style hurtles us from point to point with scarcely time to breathe or contemplate the parade of eccentric characters. Deranged pervert with a Barbie Doll fetish? Check. Bikeless bikers who secure employment as muscle in a retirement community? Got it. Death metal singer flattened by tourist bus in the middle of Highway A1A? Ditto. Homophobic talk show host turned private investigator?

You get the idea.

Does it all tie neatly together at the end? Sort of, but it doesn’t really matter. In Florida Roadkill, the process is what matters. This is a high speed romp through the seedy underbelly of Florida, though Dorsey manages to keep everything from running completely off the tracks. To me, a Serge aficionado, the question was always: can a sociopathic serial killer really work as a main character? Well, thirteen years later I’m still reading. It helps that our man with a plan has become less mercenary along the way and only kills people who really need it.

In the end, what more could a reader want from a protagonist?

Stay safe and watch for falling walnuts! (Top image: Flickr | Quinn deEskimo)

~ CD