Onyx reviews: Big Trouble by
Be forewarned: Dave Barry is making this up. Previous books by the Pulitzer
Prize winning columnist for the Miami Herald have been comic takes on everything
from sex to bad song lyrics to computers. In his first foray into fiction, Barry
has turned out a hilariously funny Florida crime novel. Taking his cue from his
less comical coworker, Carl Hiaasen, Barry has packed Big Trouble
full of gangsters, mobsters and other upstanding Miami citizens.
The plot is not the main thing here, even though Barry has constructed a
mostly logical and satisfying tale. The entertainment is in the characters, many
of whom have probably appeared in one or more of Barry's weekly columns. His
fans will recognize hormonal adolescents, remote-control-wielding macho men and
Roger, the overly enthusiastic but IQ-challenged dog who is continually
outwitted by a hallucinogen-producing toad that has taken over his food dish.
Barry animates his wacky assortment of characters, and orchestrates them
through a complex series of events with ease. As in any good farce, there is an
astonishing number of coincidences and improbable occurances. The boa
constrictor scene in the departure lounge of MIA is pure Barry.
Everything revolves around Arthur Herk, who works for Penultimate
Corporation, a construction company which specializes in overpriced government
contracts. Penultimate's shoddy projects have often come tumbling down
dramatically, either shortly after or during the official opening ceremonies,
though the blame is always laid at the feet of subcontractors.. Arthur has
gotten himself into big trouble with his employers by embezzling money intended
to bribe a government official.
The novel starts off with a bang when two groups of assassins converge on
Arthur's house at the same time. The first pair consists of Matt Arnold and his
friend Andrew. Matt's intended target is Arthur's teenage step-daughter, Jenny.
Armed with a Squirtmaster 9000 water rifle, Matt's mock assassination is part of
an ongoing high school contest called "Killer." At the same time,
however, two real hitman show up to carry out a Penultimate contract on Arthur.
Both assassinations go awry, setting in motion a series of events which
ultimately leads to a shady downtown bar, a front for a pair of Russian
gunrunners. John/Ivan and Leo/Lenoid have in their possession a heavy metal
suitcase which resembles a portable trash compactor except for the fact that it
has a 45 minute countdown timer and a classified payload.
Add to the mix a pair of inept thieves, Eddie and Snake, who attempt a
stick-up wearing hastily stolen extra-extra-large black pantyhose over their
heads. They end up with the mysterious suitcase, a pair of hostages and a stolen
police car, as they try to make their getaway to the Bahamas. Since neither of
them has ever been outside of Miami before, this is a major undertaking.
As Barry warns at the front of the book, this novel is not for youngsters,
even those who are familiar with his columns or previous books. This is because
a number of his characters, against Barry's wishes, use "Adult
While there are some superficial similarities to the antics which take place
in a Hiaasen or Elmore Leonard novel, Barry has chiseled out his own niche in
the "Bunch of South Florida Wackos" genre. The climax would please
Hitchcock, who loved showing the audience a ticking bomb. However, the suspense
is not going to keep the reader on the edge of his or her seat, but it should
keep readers who enjoys Barry's down-and-dirty sense of humor rolling in the
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