Book Review: “Tricky Business”

Tricky Business, Dave Barry, Miami Herald, Miami, Book Review

February 26, 2014

As a journalist, I truly appreciated the second novel of former Pulitzer Prize winner and Miami Herald reporter Dave Barry as he documents the fictitious rundown luxury cruise ship, The Extravaganza of the Seas, which makes nightly runs three miles offshore so people can gamble away their money. The ship is the only one to set sail as ordered by Lou Tarant, a balding gangster who uses the nightly voyages to smuggle drugs.

Bobby Kemp, a sleazy South Florida “entrepreneur” specializing in defective car air bags and bad breast implants, is the supposed owner of the ship and frustrated with the hijacking of his business empire by Lou Tarant and his lackeys. After supposedly ordering his fast food chain’s promotional homeless man in a conch-shell costume aboard ship, he has chosen the night of the tropical storm to hijack the ship and its drug trafficking from the mafia who truly run things.

The characters aboard the ship are mostly lovable despite their miserable lives that brought them to work on or the ship in the first place.

Though the chapters are broken down to follow each character as they prepare for boarding, the heroes of the story are Fay Benton, an attractive cocktail waitress and a single mom new to the ship, and Wally, the guitarist and primary vocalist for the ship’s band Johnny and the Contusions. The failed rockers provide a few collective chuckles from their dialogue. Included in the cast are an assortment of disgruntled waitresses, smugglers, and overbearing mothers. However, my favorite characters were octogenarian best friends Arnold and Phil, the snarky and endearing escapees from the Beaux Arts Senior Center who only wish to feel alive again.

Some of the truly hilarious scenes involve the satirical events of the reporters for the fictitious Newspex Nine news station. When a boy is reported to have been electrocuted by a fallen power line in the storm, the station sends out a series of reporters who all fatally fall victim to their deemed apocalyptic storm. Barry may have drawn from personal experience for the unfortunate consequences of reporting a tropical storm in south Florida as he worked for The Miami Herald.

Other hilarious scenes include a gangster vomit session so descriptive it nauseates the reader and the concept of swishing- an analysis of why women’s farts are never heard. The gangsters’ level of violence is inventive and disturbing, and occasionally disruptive from the flow of the story, but necessary and add to some of the funny scenes.

The main problem I had with the story was following the plot. The seemingly short-form narrative documents one night aboard the Extravaganza, but the entire first half has a range of timelines interspersed between all of the characters, explaining why they’re going out on such a fateful night. Occasionally, I would also confuse characters because of the lack of clarity in different scenes as the characters refer to each other or describe events. Another issue is that even though there is a disclaimer at the start of the book, some of the language seemed a little over the top.

But in the end, I laughed my way through this hilarious mystery novel- rampant with dark comedy, suspense and plot twists that kept me from putting down the book- and highly recommend Tricky Business.