Big Trouble - Dave Barry (1999)

Dave Barry is best known as a writer of humourous newspaper columns and collections of the same, as well as books of short bits of humour in the same vein. In 1999, he published his first novel, Big Trouble, which is in the "Bunch of South Florida Wackos genre," as he puts it in his acknowledgments. The result is a little uneven, but not unappealing.

The genre's master, as Barry says, is Carl Hiaasen, and Big Trouble reads almost like Hiaasen juvenalia. The plot concerns a Bunch of South Florida Wackos who, without really meaning to, finding themselves reeling from bad to worse as they get involved with arms dealers, corrupt corporations, hit men from Jersey, FBI agents with mysterious powers from Special Executive Order 768 dash 4, and a strangely heavy suitcase. The situations are zany, the characters comically inept and yet strangely frightening and the plot, such as it is, involves everyone except for the suitcase chasing the suitcase for one reason or another.

Pretty thin stuff, plotwise.

But the plot isn't the point. The point is Barry's writing and the oddly amusing characters. Here the novel works pretty well. It's not as funny as Barry's straight-ahead humour writing, which isn't surprising, but may come as a shock to anyone who reads it expecting straight-ahead humour writing. The characters are not particularly deep - they are South Florida Wackos after all - but are quirky and interesting. Barry keeps the pace up, an essential in this sort of thing, since if anyone slowed down to think the whole thing would fall apart. This combined with plenty of white space and a large font means that one can zip through the book in a couple of hours (I did).

All of which boils down to this: it's brain candy, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It's pretty light and distracting, also not always a bad thing. If Carl Hiaasen's books in this genre are the giant Chocolate Easter Bunnies with their heads bitten off of brain candy, Big Trouble is the marshmallow Peep that's been run through the microwave. And sometimes, that's exactly what you want.

Overall Grade: B-

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