Trouble In Paradise

Big Trouble, by Dave Barry (G.P. Putnam's Sons). Cloth, $23.95.

DAVE BARRY IS probably the only Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who uses the word "booger" on a regular basis. The Miami-based humor columnist (whose work appears in the Sunday Arizona Republic and the Monday Arizona Daily Star) is a hoot, a Regular Guy with a chili-stained shirt and the God-given ability to write the way he talks -- both of which are hilarious.

And, since most humor columns take about a half an hour to write (at least that's what I've heard), Barry has also found time to write 20 non-fiction books, including such best sellers as Dave Barry's Guide to Marriage and/or Sex, Stay Fit and Healthy Until You Die, and Dave Barry is From Mars AND Venus. He had never before attempted to write a novel, because, as he explains, "I would need to come up with characters and a plot!"

Fortunately for us, he took up that challenge and produced Big Trouble, a scandalously funny look at a few days in the lives of some people in South Florida. Seeing as how it's South Florida, the group of people almost naturally includes crooked businessmen, inept politicians, Russian arms dealers, hit men from New Jersey, illegal aliens, and homeless people who live in trees.

Barry manages to tie all these folks together in something vaguely resembling a plot, although after introducing each new character, he rarely uses more than a paragraph for plot exposition and bio/background thereof. In fact, the only character we get to know at all in anything other than a superficial manner is Eliot Arnold, a former journalist (ahem) who lost his job after threatening to perform some sort of impromptu rectal surgery on his idiot editor (a very common fantasy among newspaper guys).

The story unfolds like some Capra-esque farce, beginning with a teenage prank and climaxing with the threatened nuclear annihilation of Miami, which, come to think of, that would be bad. Along the way, we're treated to some huge, unforced, laugh-out-loud moments.

Please note: Big Trouble is not as good as books by Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard, two masters of the crime/humor genre whom Barry acknowledges as inspirations in the book's forward. (He even uses a Hiaasen signature device to wrap things up at the end.) But it's a good first effort.

Trouble is a lightweight, fun read, perfect for a plane trip. Just make sure you're not sitting next to some suit with a laptop. Your laughing will have him pissed off all the way to Chicago.

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