Sunday, December 30, 2012
BooksFirst February-April 2012
Hammerhead Ranch by Tim Dorsey
Orange Crush by Tim Dorsey
Hammerhead Ranch Motel by Tim Dorsey
Too Close To Miss by John Perich
Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck
Just A Guy by Bob Engvall
Tim Dorsey continues his satirical look at the dark underbelly of Florida in Hammerhead Ranch Motel, the second book of his series without a real title. And by 'satirical', I mean 'totally realistic'. The scary part about such a rambling over-the-top mess is how little is really fictional. Sure, Dorsey changes the name of Bubba The Lovesponge to Boris the Hateful Piece Of Shit ( a not very subtle dig), but it's enough of the same person to be libelous if not true. In this installment, the macguffin from Florida Roadkill is now in the greater Tampa area and a oddball assortment of sociopaths, drug dealers, gangsters, and other Florida fauna are chasing after it.
I read this book while on vacation at Rocky Point and the geography of the Pinellas County and greater Tampa is stunning accurate. Most of the action in the book takes place in and around the titular motel which is haven to a scam artist drug dealer and several itinerant parties involved in what loosely could be described as a plot. Coherent narratives do not seem to be the strong suit of Dorsey but the characters are fresh and memorable.
John Perich is a contributing editor to the Overthinking It website and podcast. In addition to his duties on that site, he has written Too Close To Miss, a thriller novel set in his adopted town of Boston. Now Boston is no stranger to mystery writers with both Robert Parker and Dennis Lehane walking that side of the street already. To compete in a crowded thinking space, Perich has attempted to subvert a few cliches of the genre. For one, the heroine is the mistress. When a prominent politician's wife is brutally murdered, newspaper photographer Mara Cunningham becomes the prime suspect and she has to clear her name.
I'm fond of mysteries with a little intellectual heft behind them, the books by John D. MacDonald and Sue Grafton come to mind, and this book fits well in that niche. It's not too spoilery to say that there are suspicious land deals involved, a staple of the Travis McGee series. Like all thriller heroes, Mara is just perhaps a little too hyper-competent. For one, she teaches martial arts on the side, a skill that comes in handy when the baddies start stalking her.
What is perhaps notable about this book is that Perich has decided to self-publish in as a Kindle-only format. And despite the sketchiness of the self-published novel, this book stands as a peer with anything published by a major house.
I first read anything by John Steinbeck when my son read The Pearl in high school. To close this major blindspot I decided to give Travels With Charley a try. This an atypical book from Steinbeck in that it is a travelogue rather than a novel with the titular co-travel being his aging poodle. The two take off in a pick-up truck and do a lap of the United States. It does seem to take them an inordinate amount of time to get out of New England.
It surprised me that the book was written in the early 1960s as I tend to associate Steinbeck with the Great Depression. This becomes a factor when he makes his way to segregation era Texas and the Deep South. At that point the story becomes a little more reportorial as he spends a good time discussing the opposition to school integration in a small town. As with the rest of the book, he lets the people he meets talk without a lot of authorial editorial, but the people encounters here don't always show their best side.
I greatly appreciated the nuance and charm that Steinbeck brought to the book. It's nostalgic without being maudlin, introspective without being navel-gazing.
My go-to choice for audio books to listen to on road trips has become books written and read by comedians. There is something about having it read in their own voice that brings an immediacy to the story. Bob Engvall is one of the Blue Collar Comics, not as funny as John Foxworthy, but not nearly as cringingly bad as Larry The Cable Guy.
Presumably the book title Just A Guy is one of his catch phrases which he repeats a few times in the book but not to the point of annoyance. Mostly the book is about his early days as a stand-up comedian and the wooing of his wife Gail. Based on his self-deprecating stories, she is a saint for putting up with him, a judgment I could concur with. Towards the end of the book the schmaltz gets amped up to ten but that is a minor annoyance.
Much like Engvall himself, this book is good middle-of-the-road entertainment with few major revelations but a couple of clever insights.