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: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

1 07 2013

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Read by Khristine Hvam, Peter Ganim, Jay Snyder, Joshua Boone, Dani Cervone, Jenna Hellmuth

Hachette Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 36 Min

Genre: Time Travel Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Shining Girl is a novel that never allows you to get comfortable. It shifts and blends, leaving you feeling disconcerted and disturbed but utterly enthralled. Beukes combines the elements of paranormal time travel and crime fiction in a way that lifts this novel about the typical, making it truly special.

Grade: A-

I have to admit, there was a small part of me that was hesitant about Lauren Beukes latest novel, The Shining Girls. Mostly I was excited. Very, very excited. For a while it was my must have novel of the summer. Let’s face it, this one falls right into my wheelhouse, a time traveling serial killer. I love time travel novels. I love crime fiction. And I especially love novels that blend my favorite subgenres together into something unique. The Shining Girls was like a gift from some deity saying “Hey Bob, here’s a book you will love.” Yet, part of me was still worried. There was one lingering aspect of the novel that had me concerned, the setting. I have nothing against Chicago. In fact, I think it’s one of the best settings for a crime fiction novel, full of political corruption, superstitions and colorful characters. Yet, my first experience with Lauren Beukes was her wonderful Johannesburg set Zoo City. One of my favorite aspects of Zoo City was a look into a city, although quite changed by Beukes magical shift, that I have rarely encountered in fiction. It offered something unique, beyond Beukes fascinating mythology, to see it play out in a setting I have known existed in mostly a theoretical level. When I learned Beukes was setting her next novel in Chicago, I was like “…but… but… Chicago isn’t in South Africa. I have read tons of stories that took place in Chicago!” I was worried we would be given a touristy glimpse of Chicago where we got to experience the Cubbies, and Ditka jokes and oh my gosh… they love Polish sausage. Yet, I guess I shouldn’t have worried. Sure, I missed the Johannesburg setting but Beukes time shifting trip through Chi-town offered a unique glimpse at this city that I have rarely encountered before.

Harper Curtis is a brutal killer from the past, who finds a strange house that opens him up to strange future worlds, where he encounters girls who shine only for him. He knows the house wants him to kill these girls, he just doesn’t know why but once he kills them all, this should be revealed. Kirby Mazrachi survived a brutal attack that the police believe was random, but she is sure is the work of a serial killer. Together with a former homicide reporter now covering the Cubs, she pieces together a series of brutal murders that could lead her to her attacker. The thing that I love about the Shining Girls is how both aspects of the novel work so well on their own. Strip away the strange paranormal house and time traveling elements, and you have a solid Crime Fiction novel on par with Michael Connelly’s The Poet or Warren Ellis’s Gun Machine. Strip away the crime fiction elements, and you have a seriously spooky ghost house story on par with such dark fantasists and Stephen King or Robert McCammon. It’s how Beukes layers these two elements together that elevates The Shining Girl beyond solid examples of these genres, to something brilliant and utterly beyond simple classification. Beukes has it set up so not even her characters know what kind of book they are in until it all crashes together in a breathtaking finale. Unlike most Serial Killer tales, this isn’t some Cat-and-Mouse game between a brilliant serial killer and those attempting to stop him. Instead, it’s almost as the players are working on their own puzzles, dealing with their own pasts, and putting together their pieces towards goals that eventually force them to the inevitable conflict. It’s not that there isn’t an procedural investigatory arc, there is and it’s quite strong in it’s own right, yet, Kirby and Dan don’t really know what they are looking for, so it’s like that are trying to make a picture out of pieces from many different puzzle boxes. Beukes doesn’t spend a lot of time setting up the mythology of the eerie house that sends serial Killer Harper on his time tripping spree. Instead she tickles around the edges of the paranormal, having the house be a tool not even the wielder understands. He knows he has a mission, and he understands that the girls are shining and must be extinguished, yet even he doesn’t truly understand the whys and hows. In many ways, he is also part victim, while a sadistic and brutal one. It‘s hard to say how much of his mission came from The House, and how much he becomes The House‘s mission. This sort of fluidity may be frustrating to some readers who want solid answers, but I found it to add to the disconcerting charm of the novel. The Shining Girl also reeks of authenticity. The city of Chicago comes alive in a way that you can’t find on tourist guides and her characters just feel real. Even the murder scenes are full of visceral imagery and meticulous detail that gives you insight into both the victim and the perpetrator. The Shining Girl is a novel that never allows you to get comfortable. It shifts and blends, leaving you feeling disconcerted and disturbed but utterly enthralled. Beukes combines the elements of paranormal time travel and crime fiction in a way that lifts this novel about the typical, making it truly special. The Shining Girl is a novel I will be thinking about for a long time, too of tem late at night as the darkness begins to creep into my dreams.

Hachette Audio has really made a name for itself by putting together some of the best multinarrator productions in the industry. In The Shining Girls, Hachette has brought together some of the best narrators in the business, and combined them with some new narrators with lots of future potential. All the narrators gave strong, solid performances. Khristine Hvam, as Kirby, is stellar as usual, and Peter Ganim deftly captures the charming yet unstable Harper Curtis. Jay Snyder has a brilliant, crisp almost perfect voice, and the work is so on point that you never really feel any disconnect when the narrators shift. Yet, I think this was also my problem with the audiobook version of The Shining Girls. At times, particularly with Snyder’s work, it seemed all too perfect. Jay Snyder has the vocal equivalent to movie star looks, and I would have loved to see a bit more flavor and grit in his performance of down and out reporter Dan Velasquez. Dan was ethnically Hispanic, and while I don’t expect him to sound like he just came up from Tijuana, I would have liked just a little Hispanic edge in his voice. I though the work of the smaller roles, particularly that of Joshua Boone and Jenna Hellmuth added just the right counterpoint to the other narrators. Dani Cervone was also strong, but her voice was a bit close to Hvams, which didn’t allow it to stand out as much as the work of the other two. Overall, the audio production was excellent. It was well paced, sounded crisp and in the end served the story well. Any issue I had came down ultimately to listener preference.

Note: Thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with 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.