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Shot on Location (Key West, #9)
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In the Press, Blogs, and Sites > My review of the new Laurence Shames novel... back in Key West!!

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message 1: by Linton (new)

Linton Robinson | 1 comments You probably can’t hear it from where you sit, but there is jubilation in the land.
Readers are celebrating a new title from Laurence Shames. And better yet, the return of Joey and Bert and the whole off-center population and enchanting physique of Key West. Cause for celebration, indeed.
Of course this isn’t the first book Larry wrote since he moved out of the Keys. “The Angels’ Share” was very nice, and a surprising new direction for him. But it’s kind of like going to a B.B. King concert and he plays a bluegrass number or a finger picking Segovia concerto. Nice, but not what you came for. But when he goes back to de blooze, it only takes a few notes for you to know he’s back on home turf. And as soon as the Cadillac with the starred windshield shows up, you know back in good hands.
But not the “same old same old”, exactly. Yeah, the Yawkers are there, and Miami mobsters lurk like mooching sharks. But this is a different kind of story, about different people.
The lead character, Jake, is a prominent ghostwriter a little burnt because his knack for writing best-sellers for other people has kept him from expressing his own voice. Not a stretch, more like a “write what you know” riff for Mr. Shames, who originally made his bones by ghostwriting a NYT best-seller for somebody else. What’s stretchy here, perhaps, is that this book is a different breed of fish from his earlier Key West works: it veers towards other genres, rather the sui generis Shames created with the “Florida Straits” series. It’s a familiar gesture, I guess you’d say: a self-appointed sleuth running around talking to a bunch of people trying to find out “Whoduunit?”
But “It” isn’t a murder. Maintaining one rather unique and charming feature of the man’s work: he doesn’t need bloodshed to maintain suspense and interest. In place of gore he uses something known as “characterization”. And with Hollywood hitting town to do what we zanily refer to as “reality” shows, there are doozy characters to go around. Even one called “Handsome Johnny”. And an Ace leg-breaker named Ace who idolizes Bert the Shirt as some legendary made-guy icon and really prefers cooking grouper. But, it’s basically a mystery, not whatever you’d call something like “Virgin Heat” of the wonderful “Scavenger Reef”: call it Shames/Shamus if you must.
And, typically, it’s a romance. In fact, for a minute there it actually looks like the lead dude might be in a “two girls, which one gets the nod” situation, which I don’t think he’s ever done before.
But none of that touches a character that is always omnipresent, if not front stage, in these books, coloring everything from behind the scenes, and bursting out to steal the show from time to time: Key West itself.
Allow me to quote a passage, which illustrates that, and why you should take Laurence Shames seriously as a very fine writer, not just a guy who does cute Mafiosi in paradise.
Jake steps off the plane into Key West air, which is described thusly: “…weighty, almost liquid, and had a complicated and ancient smell. It smelled of salt and iodine and toasted seashells, and underneath these tangy aromas was a darker, low-tide whiff of slight decay, not fetid, not cloying, but carrying an oddly comforting suggestion of rot, of things calmly and slowly breaking down, of life returning to its original goo. The sunshine didn’t seem to slice straight through this viscous air; it seemed somehow to mix with it, stir it, to lift it in folds and curls like a spoon in batter.”
Which provides on answer to the cruelest question of all, which comes to the mind of even great fans when addressing “later works” by a wonderful author: is he past peak? Has he lost a step?
And as an abject fan, I would say, Yeah, maybe a little bit. But so what? So has Derek Jeter. So did John Elway. This is a fine book by a real National Treasure of a writer and the smart thing to do would be to grab it up and give it a read. If you’re part of the Joey and Bert cult, it won’t let you down. If not, it should suck you into the fold.


message 2: by Pale Fire (new)

Pale Fire Press (palefirepress) | 7 comments I'm personally acquainted with the author and share Linton's admiration of Shames' masterful prose and ability to deliver a satisfying read every time.


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