Audiobook Review: Tiger Shrimp Tango by Tim Dorsey

19 02 2014

Tiger Shrimp Tango by Tim Dorsey (Serge Storms, Bk. 17)

Read by Oliver Wyman

Harper Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 44 Min

Genre: Florida Thriller

Grade: A-

I always enjoy a well constructed plot. Stories that structure themselves well, with a natural progression, well timed twists and reveals, and conclusions that tie up all the tangents the authors went on in intriguing ways. Except when it comes to Serge novels. For some reason, the more scattershot, unstructured the plot is in one of Tim Dorsey’s Serge A Storms novel, the more I cackle in glee. The latest novel, Tiger Shrimp Tango has Serge at his manic best. Sure, there is a plot. Former Police nemesis, the noir speaking Mahoney is now a Private Eye, and has hired Serge to track down scam artist in an attempt to recover the money they took for their marks. The tracking down part isn’t hard for Serge, it’s the discipline not to kill them in elaborate ways were Serge is lacking. Tiger Shrimp Tango has everything you love in a Serge novel. While not the best plotted novel of the series, it’s full of twists and tons and tons of laughs. When not working on Mahoney’s projects, Serge is attempting to bring together the polarized sides our modern political landscape in some of the most hilarious moments of the series. As someone who considers himself and extreme moderate and politics junkie, the pot shots at both sides of the spectrum had me holing, especially the segment where both parties attempt to explain why Jesus would make a horrible political candidate.  On top of all that, Serge comes up with some of his best kills and most deserving prey. Tiger Shrimp Tango is another great example of how Dorsey takes the already zany over the top Florida Thriller genre and ramps it up to absurdity all to the delight of this particular listener.

Oliver Wyman can make even a mediocre Serge novel into audio gold, and in Tiger Shrimp Tango, he delivers another performance so hilarious you want to avoid drinking dairy products unless you enjoy the feeling of milk gushing from your nostrils. For some reason, I always tend to listen to one of these novels when I am out and about shopping in public places, and the stares I get from my inappropriate laughter makes it all worth it. Wyman gives Serge and Coleman and almost cartoon character feel, yet infused with a humanity you can’t overlook. Yet, one of the highlights of the novel is the assortment of colorful characters, lowlifes, flim flam men and women, innocent dupes, political protesters and other not quite typical character  that Wyman brings to life is such wonderful ways. Tiger Shrimp Tango is one dance you wouldn’t want any other voice to cut in on.

Audiobook Review: Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

24 06 2013

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

Read by Arte Johnson

Random House Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 25 Min

Genre: Florida Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Bad Monkey should have just left off the monkey part and kept the appropriate label… BAD BAD BAD! It’s a shame that Hiaasen’s latest is such a mess, and I found it entirely inappropriate for a time where we are actively discussing a culture that downplays sexual assault that he uses such an act for comedy and continually marginalizes the victim as justification for the attack.

Grade: D-

There was a phase, back in the 90’s, during college and a few years afterwards that I fell out of the habit of reading fiction. During this time, I was working long hours, often hitting a bar or something after finishing a shift, ran home, crashed and started it all over again. Then one day, while browsing through a Waldenbooks, I saw this hideous purplish cover with a cartoonish green alligator on a book called Tourist Season. Just reading the back blurb, I was hooked. I instantly fell in love with Carl Hiaasen’s writing, and with a strange genre that seemed to exist solely within the state boundaries of the Sunshine State. Hiaasen, Paul Levine, James W. Hall, Tim Dorsey and of course, John MacDonald really got me back into the reading thing. In fact, I have a reputation as a Speculative Fiction guy, but it was these types of Florida Thrillers that defined a big chunk of the 90’s for me. Hiaasen obtained, at that time, most favorite writer status in my mind. When we hit the oughts some of the shine wore off and I started transitioning back to my first love, horror but I still maintained an appreciation for Hiaasen even though the books didn’t impact me as much. What I always loved about Hiaasen was that he managed to create these characters that, on some level, lived outside the law, but kept the moral high ground. Their actions were extreme, eco-terrorism, menacing behavior towards douchebags and even murder, but there always seemed some level of righteousness to it. Then I began listening to Bad Monkey. Hell, I should have loved this, right? Monkeys! But I kept listening, and becoming angrier and angrier, just frustrated and I couldn’t really put my finger on why. Suddenly, about two thirds of the way through, it dawned on me why. Instead of a sort of rebel with a cause, Hiaasen’s latest characters is an egotistical, morally degenerate loser who is part of the establishment, and committed a morally reprehensible act that Hiaasen not only justifies, but uses it for levity. OK, stay with me people. This may get a bit bumpy. 

Andrew Yancey is upset. Suspended from his job as a Policeman and forced to work as a Restaurant Inspector, he will do anything to get the job he deserves back. So when a severed arm is discovered to be the only evidence left of a tragic death, Yancey smells opportunity. If he can prove the shady widow actually killed her husband, he will win the love and affection of the press, and most importantly his buddy the police chief and get his beloved job back serving and protecting the people of South Florida. I want to say first, I am not a very triggery person. There are a few things that often bother me in books enough to cause instant hatred, one is the sexual exploitation of children. Any attempt to lessen the horrendousness of these acts will cause me to toss any book aside. Yet, I tend to try to keep a relatively open mind to things, and have a decent affinity for scatological humor but when I finally realized what bothered me about Bad Monkey, beyond the rambling plot, unlikable characters, and cut and paste mystery, I was mad at myself for not realizing it sooner. You see, Andrew Yancey didn’t deserve to lose his job. All he did was sexually assault another man with a vacuum cleaner attachment. HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!! Isn’t that hilarious? Sexually humiliating a man by what Yancey says was nothing more than a High Colonic. He does this, of course, in public, in front of tourists who captures it and post it to YOUTUBE! Comic Gold! I mean, why suspend this guy? Can’t people take a joke? Let’s face it, Yancey’s victim deserved to be sexually humiliated and violated. Why? Because the guy got upset when he discovered Yancey was having an extramarital affair with his wife. Yes. Yancey punished the man whose wife he was sleeping with by shoving a vacuum attachment somewhere not so nice. And I’m supposed to like this guy and feel bad that instead of being instantly fired, arrested and at the very least held accountable for his action, he is given another government job, one he doesn‘t like as much. Yeah, poor guy. To make things even worse, Hiaasen continues to point out all the victim’s sexual deviancy, for example, his penchant for autoerotic asphyxiation, because we all know that people who practice untraditional forms of self pleasure probably deserves to be sexually assaulted. I was truly angry about this, and I’m not someone who angers very easily. Honestly, if this was one brief incident, I probably would have let it go, but Hiaasen continues to harp on the act for comic relief and as a way to make you feel for Yancey. It had the opposite affect on me. Fact of the matter, I don’t think I would have liked Bad Monkey anyway. He uses “American Pie” style sexual humor, like kinky 50 Shades and mortuary sexplay, a masturbating monkey and other such nonsense as a replacement for his typical quirkiness. Yancey’s quest was basically a pointless exercise in narcissism, and he probably committed as much harm as the criminals he was chasing. He relies heavily on stereotypical Caribbean caricatures for his few interesting characters and the ending was a big fizzle of nothingness. In the end, it seemed the only character whose journey had a net positive result was the one I hated the most. Bad Monkey should have just left off the monkey part and kept the appropriate label… BAD BAD BAD! It’s a shame that Hiaasen’s latest is such a mess, and I found it entirely inappropriate for a time where we are actively discussing a culture that downplays sexual assault that he uses such an act for comedy and continually marginalizes the victim as justification for the attack.  

This is my first time listening to Arte Johnson performing a solo narration of an entire book, and ummmm… No. It just didn’t work for me. I’ve loved some of his work in shorter burst before, but here, the entire thing was just too slow, too dependent on stereotypical accents and just utterly unengaging. His accents and vocalizations didn’t seem consistent, particularly in his portrayal of the Puerto Rican Coroner whose accent fluctuated from slightly Hispanic to straight from Havana, despite saying she grew up in New Jersey.   I constantly struggled with the narrator/content continuum in this book. Would I have liked the book more if I the narration was better, maybe a narrator I really enjoy like Oliver Wyman or Peter Berkrot? Would I have liked the narration more if I didn’t find the entire story unfocused, and pretty much offensive? I’m not sure. I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to Johnson. Maybe this just wasn’t the right fit for him, or maybe he was struggling with the book in the same way I was. Overall, Bad Monkey was just an unpleasant listening experience, one which I am not sure why I continued listening other than the fact that is was from one of my formerly favorite authors. Maybe I can now block out the experience.

Thanks to Random House Audio for providing me a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: The Riptide Ultra-Glide by Tim Dorsey

29 01 2013

The Riptide Ultra-Glide by Tim Dorsey (Serge A. Storms, Bk. 16)

Read by Oliver Wyman

Harper Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 20 Min

Genre: Florida Thriller

Quick Thoughts: The Riptide Ultra Glide is a screwball comedy on meth, told in Dorsey’s signature interlocking style. While I found the plot of The Riptide Ultra-Glide to not be as satisfying as other Serge tales, Dorsey makes up for it with a lot of other flourishes that had me laughing, cheering and considering what items I could turn into a bong (for scientific purposes.) Any time I get to spend with Serge and Coleman is time well spent, as long as I don’t end up in a burning boat.

Grade; B+

I honestly think that working for the Florida Chamber of Commerce or Tourism Bureau as a special liaison to the fans of Florida Thrillers would be an interesting job. Let’s face it, Florida as a vacation spot seems like an idyllic choice. Warm weather, sunny beaches, hot night life, Disney, Cape Canaveral and many boutique Touristy places make it a pretty easy sell to those wanting to escape the drudgery of there normal life for a little fun and magical vacation time. Yet, I am someone who has spent more time reading about Florida than actually standing on its earth. My impressions of Florida come from Carl Hiaasen, Tm Dorsey, James W. Hall and Paul Levine among others. In the literary Florida, tourist end up washing up dead on the beach with a toy alligator lodged in their throats, and that’s only if they aren’t mistaken for a drug dealer, framed for murder or scammed by telemarketers and confidence men. In literary Florida, crazy serial killers roam the highways looking for rude tourist to become contestants in one of their elaborate murderous game shows. How exactly do you sell a 4 Day 5 Night package to people who may be wary of their Cruise Line being hijacked and your only hope is some hippyish roustabout who spends his free time tying fishing lures? Yet, part of me realizes that maybe the mad-capped hijinks of our favorite Floridaphiles may be the exact motivation needed to tempt us bibliophiles to the Sunshine State. I for one have always wanted to be taken on a tour of the Florida hotspots by some mentally disturbed yet somewhat lovable spree killing maniac and his substance abusing friend.  Of course, I’ve been told I’m not quite right.

The Riptide Ultra-Glide is the 16th edition of Tim Dorsey’s hyper kinetic somewhat deranged love song/cautionary tale of his beloved Florida through the eyes of the ultimate Florida superfan and often times elaborate killer Serge A. Storms. This time, Serge, along with his trusty yet smoked up companion Coleman is shooting a reality show about Florida. Lucky for them that they happened upon a too nice to be true couple, Patrick and Barbara MacDougal, who are in the midst of a nightmare Florida vacation, where they have been robbed, injured, mistaken for drug dealers, slandered and scammed. This, in Serge’s mind, makes them the luckiest people on earth. The Rip Tide Ultra Glide is a screwball comedy on meth, told in Dorsey’s signature interlocking style. There are so many literally laugh out loud moments held within the digital pages of this novel, that I scared my share of small children and pets with my inappropriate laughter. I loved every minute of this tale, but I have to admit, this wasn’t my favorite Serge Storms novel. While I love all the zaniness of Serge, typically his homicidal wackiness ends up having a positive net effect on the storyline, yet, here I didn’t feel it. Serge is more of a passive observer in this tale, and doesn’t truly get involved in the story until far too late. I was much more fascinated by Pat and Barb’s tale of the WORST VACATION EVER. I genuinely liked this couple and hoped that things would end up all working out in the favor, yet, I feel the payoff never truly came. There were so many other things to really love about this novel that it made up for it’s less that satisfying plot. While Serge’s violence was a bit more restrained in this novel, his commentaries on cultural issues were spot on gut busting hilarious. Even better, I thought this was the first time that Coleman actually was a more interesting character than Serge. At points in the story, Coleman out-Serge’d Serge, becoming a guru to the stoner elite, and pulling a strange sort of brilliance out when you least expect it. Like Pizza and sex, even when the Serge A Storm’s novel your reading isn’t the best of the series, it’s still a lot better than sitting at home alone watching old episodes of Coach. While I found the plot of The Riptide Ultra-Glide to not be as satisfying as other Serge tales, Dorsey makes up for it with a lot of other flourishes that had me laughing, cheering and considering what items I could turn into a bong (for scientific purposes.) Any time I get to spend with Serge and Coleman is time well spent, as long as I don’t end up in a burning boat.

Part of me thinks that I should recuse myself every time I review an Oliver Wyman performance of a Tim Dorsey novel because I am totally biased by its awesomeness. I will posit that Oliver Wyman’s bringing to life of Serge and Coleman is some of the purest forms of audiobook joy I can think of. It’s hard for me to give a true critical analysis because while I’m listening to it, I’m like an audiobook nerd jumping up and down constantly repeating "My God… My God.. My God…" So excuse my fanboyish excesses when I say that Oliver Wyman gives another brilliant, funny, even somewhat touching performance in The Riptide Ultra-Glide. Well, maybe not touching. My tears were probably more from laughing so hard I burst retinal blood vessels, but still. Dorsey creates some wonderful characters. They are often over the top and possibly even cartoonish, and Wyman never fails to create the perfect voice for each of these characters. Wyman doesn’t bother with restraint, he just goes at each character like a neutered dog humping a stuffed animal to show his dominance. He wrings as much humor out of each one of Dorsey’s elaborately set up situations while deftly leading you though the mayhem, never leaving the audience behind. It’s a heck of a fun ride, and while you may be scared at times, Wyman never loses control of the vehicle.

Audiobook Review: Pineapple Grenade by Tim Dorsey

25 01 2012

Pineapple Grenade by Tim Dorsey (Serge A. Storms, Bk. 15)

Read by Oliver Wyman

Harper Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 7 Min

Genre: Florida Thriller

Quick Thoughts:Pineapple Grenade is a classic Tim Dorsey Serge novel, which sticks true to his formula because this formula works. Serge is truly one of my favorite literary characters, and this entry, which is the 15th on the series, ranks up there with my favorites.

Grade: A

Those who follow this blog, or have read any interviews with me, or checked out my twitter feed, will know that I love Tim Dorsey’s Serge A. Storm series. If you don’t do any of those things, I should probably let you know that I love Tim Dorsey’s Serge A. Storms series. I am a fanboy defined. You should know that unless Dorsey decides to spend a novel having Serge knitting and writing sonnets about how much he loves guest bathroom towels, I will probably be giving the latest Serge novels high marks. Probably the only thing I like more than a Serge novel is a Serge audiobook read by the amazing Oliver Wyman. I have mentioned this fact before when waxing philosophical about audiobooks, but Dorsey’s novel Hurricane Punch was the one novel that I attribute with taking me from, "Oh, audiobooks are nice when I can’t read" to "OMG, I want to run away with audiobooks and have their babies." I have reviewed three novels in this series here at the ‘lobe, and did a brief write up of a fourth, Gator-A-Go-Go, in my Best of 2010 post. For those who are not familiar with this series, Serge is a lovable, yet undeniable insane Floridiaphile. His obsessive love of Florida history leads to madcap adventures throughout the state, often with his stoner best friend Coleman. Oh, I should probably add that he’s also a serial killer, who preys on the rude, abusive or greedy, and comes up with elaborate methods of dealing out death. One of my life dreams is to someday take a tour of Serge’s Florida. I have only been to Florida once, and it was only Jacksonville, so I don’t think that really counts.

South Florida has always been a hot bed of espionage, what with Castro, drug running, and the hit series Burn Notice, and now it’s time for Serge to get in on the action. With a big International Summit taking place in Miami, Serge just knows something big is going to happen, and begins to take steps to get himself noticed by the spy community. Yet, after saving a Latin American President from carjackers, he gets noticed by a CIA Field office, who are mired in a struggle against one of their greatest enemies, another CIA field office. Hence begins perhaps my favorite entry in this series since Hurricane Punch. I started listening to Pineapple Grenade while shoe shopping at Wal-Mart, and the first line ("A prosthetic leg with a Willie Nelson bumper sticker washed ashore on the beach, which meant it was Florida) made me laugh out loud, to the chagrin of those standing near me. What I love about Dorsey is that no literary rule is safe. A Serge novel is like a Monty Python movie, where the 3rd wall is no obstacle to a good joke. From Serge, under a truth serum, being asked about the plot, and hence recapping the story thus far, to a brief interaction with his story’s omniscient narrator, Serge and Dorsey do things in this novel that I have trouble seeing anyone else pull off. Yet, Dorsey isn’t just slapping together crazy scenarios to get the biggest laughs, the novel itself has a weird, but coherent overall story arch that is quite well plotted with even a few surprises thrown in. Pineapple Grenade is a classic Tim Dorsey Serge novel, which sticks true to his formula because this formula works. Serge is truly one of my favorite literary characters, and this entry, which is the 15th on the series, ranks up there with my favorites. 

What can I say about Oliver Wyman that I haven’t said already? I can go on and on about how perfectly his characterizations fit my vision for Serge and Coleman from the days I read this series in print. Yet, instead I will take on his overall narrative tone. One thing I noticed with this listen was how deliberately he slow played the rampant humor of this novel with his role as narrator. Wyman, throughout his reading of Pineapple Grenade, used long pauses and deliberate readings of the prose to counteract Serge’s manic vocalizations. While I have noticed this before with Wyman’s reading, I believe it was particularly effective in this novel. Also, during his express role as omniscient narrator, you could just hear the smirk in his voice. I know that narrators cannot like every book they read, but I find knowing that Wyman looks forward to every chance he has to channel Serge and Coleman always adds something special for me the listener. Although I have just finished listening to this audiobook a few hours ago at the time I am writing this review, I already miss Serge, Coleman and Dorsey’s crazy vision of Florida, and long for the next installment to this series.

Note: A special thanks to the wonderful people at Harper Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: When Elves Attack by Tim Dorsey

4 11 2011

When Elves Attack: A Joyous Christmas Greeting from the Criminal Nutbars of the Sunshine State by Tim Dorsey

Read by Oliver Wyman

Harper Audio

Length: 5 Hrs 5 Mins

Genre: Florida Comic Thriller

Quick Thoughts: When Elves Attack is the perfect present to fans of Tim Dorsey’s Serge A Storms series, giving us everything we have grown to love about the antics of Serge and his cohorts, and adding to that the spirit of the Holidays with hilarious and heartfelt results.

Grade: A

Throughout much of my 20’s I was one of those grinchy, bah-humbugging Christmas’s grouches that seem to become more and more prevalent. Much of the wonder and fun of Christmas was lost on me. I was single, unmarried, and my siblings were all starting there own families, so I was lucky to receive a few sympathy gifts and an invite to my sister’s traditional Christmas day shenanigan’s of which the best part was her lasagna.  To make matters worse, most of my 20’s was spent working as a retail manager where they started playing the Christmas music November 1st on a loop of which is fine for a quick stop, but mind numbingly annoying after a 12 hour shift.  That all changed about 10 years ago, when I changed careers, and I began working with special needs adults. I realized that viewing Christmas through their eyes made all the difference. Seeing the joy as they see Santa riding in on the Fire Truck, and opening their presents Christmas morning turned me from Scroogish ways, and allowed my heart to grow three sizes bigger. So, despite it being only the first week of November, I was excited to take on my first Holiday audiobook listen. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the audiobook was written by one of my favorite authors and featuring some of my favorite characters, Serge Storms and Coleman, as well as a variety of the colorful Florida Nutbars that have brought me so many laugh out loud moments in this series.

If you are not familiar with Serge A. Storms, you are missing one of the best literary characters out there. Serge is an utterly insane, serial killing Floridaphile, who together with his drug raddled, slow witted sidekick Coleman gets involved in a yearly yarn. Now, despite his killing sprees Serge is a highly likable character, unless you are a rude, abusive lout who violates one of the many off kilter rules of Serge’s twisted civility. Each year, Serge becomes obsessed about some Florida institution, like NASA, hurricanes, Spring Break, etc. and while enjoying his rampage through the Sunshine State, takes out those who hurt or exploit something he loves in complex and creative ways. In many ways, experiencing Christmas through Serge’s almost childlike, twisted perspective is a great way to truly appreciate the Holiday. In When Elves Attack, Serge and Coleman go on a mission to end the media hyped "War on Christmas" by doing Christmas "Big" and this leads to lots of hijinks and funny moments. Yet the true heart of the story is Serge attempting to learn how to be a family by moving onto Triggerfish Lane, and emulating his hero, the low key, conflict phobic family-man Jim Davenport. While not as madcap as some of his previous novels, Dorsey brings his A game in a tighter, more uplifting tale that is still full of his clever uses of Serge’s mania. In many ways, a Tim Dorsey novel reminds me of some of the best written Seinfeld episodes, where seemingly random events merge together in a perfect ending that you chide yourself for not seeing coming. What really won me over was the ending of the tale, full of the childlike joys of the season, and filled with characters we have grown to love. When Elves Attack is the perfect present to fans of the Series, giving us everything we have grown to love about the antics of Serge and his cohorts, and adding to that the spirit of the Holidays.

One of the joys of any Serge novel is experiencing it through the voice of Oliver Wyman. From the opening moments, when Wyman takes on his old lady persona and has Edith Grabowski announcing she has given up sex, I couldn’t help but laugh. Wyman has used his voice to help us connect with these characters so well, that each time I heard a reoccurring character introduced, in Wyman’s chosen voice, I would have a Norm from Cheers moment, wanting to applaud their entry shouting out their name. There is just something special about returning to a beloved series, with a narrator you know is also a fan, who pulls out all the stops to do justice to the writing. When Elves Attack is a hilarious, slapstick Christmas Adventure that is full of heart and allows you to experience Christmas through the childlike eyes of our favorite serial killer.