| | Key West
| || Florida Straits (1992)|
From Publishers Weekly
A comedy of Mafia manners as brash and shiny as a sharkskin suit struts its way across these pages. Young mafioso Joey Goldman, the illegitimate son of a New York don, gets fed up with his lot as a goombata gofer and takes his bank-teller girfriend Sandra to Key West, where he's "gonna, like, take over." Sandra lands a new job right away, but Joey is stymied by his first foray out of New York mob territory. Rebuffed by the seamiest of local racketeers, Joey is counseled by retired gunsel Bert "the Shirt" to go native; he falls in love with laid-back Key West, where "the air is the temperature of lips," and takes a job pitching time-shares. All is well until big brother Gino drops in from New York--up to his size-17 neck in trouble with the Miami mob over uncut emeralds and misplaced drugs. Joey's former troubles are back in his face as Gino sets him up; death looms before Joey finally outscams the pros to become a self-made man. The plot line flows like a strong ocean current, and Shames's ( The Big Time ) quirky Key West denizens clash wonderfully with the insulated and seamy lives of the mobsters. Film rights to Lee Rich Productions.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
| || Scavenger Reef (1994)|
Augie Silver is a successful Key West artist whose work brings a decent, if not extraordinary, price at the finer New York galleries. Then Augie, an avid sailor, disappears into the Carribean. His wife, Nina, grieves, and his friends hoist a few to his memory. Meanwhile, Augie's agent organizes a retrospective exhibit of the Silver collection; the show is a huge success, and the value of Augie's art goes through the roof, prompting the painter's friends to realize that the pictures hanging on their walls, largely gifts from their pal Augie, are now worth a fortune. Hold everything! Here's Augie, alive again. His boat broke apart in a storm, but he floated ashore and, after a bout of amnesia, has finally returned to his beloved Nina. She's overjoyed, but Augie's friends--seeing their anticipated pile of lucre shrink--aren't so sure. Soon Arnie's life is in danger again--this time from someone trying to protect his or her investment. Carefully drawn characters--Key West eccentrics, mostly--and a languid, poetic style combine with a clever plot for an unusual and very entertaining mystery. Wes Lukowsky
| || Sunburn (1995)|
From Publishers Weekly
Playing Boswell to a mafia don leads a small-time reporter into big-time trouble in Shames's third, and not up to par, Key West seriocomic thriller (after Florida Straits and Scavenger Reef). Godfather Vicente Delgatto, 76, has moved to Key West but is no more retired than Meyer Lansky was in Miami. Still, Vincente's bilious past is catching up to him, so he decides to write his autobiography, using as his ghostwriter Arty Magnus, a hack reporter for the Key West Sentinel. Though Vincente's half-Jewish younger son has urged him to write the book, his elder son, the full-Sicilian Gino Delgatto, hates the idea. When Gino, a money-mad egocentric and vulgarian, tries to muscle in on union vigorish in Miami and gets kidnapped by rival mobsters, he saves himself by spilling the secret about his father's book. Soon, ghostwriter Arty finds himself chased by mobsters who plan to kill him as a warning to Vincente to forget the book-and by the FBI, who want Arty's notes in order to nail the mob. Shames's ape-talking thugs and plaster-of-paris wiseguys are engaging on a sitcom level, but this tale, though sometimes quite funny, has neither the richness of word and depth of feeling of an Elmore Leonard nor the inspired wackiness of a Carl Hiaasen. Author tour.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
| || Tropical Depression (1996)|
From Publishers Weekly
The portrayal of the Florida Keys as a hotspot of criminal ribaldry continues apace in Shames's latest thriller, a nifty follow-up to last year's Sunburn. Sufficiently depressed to have tried suicide, and now on Prozac, wealthy, middle-aged bra magnate Murray Zemelman abandons his ornamental second wife and showy Short Hills, N.J., home, setting out for the never-never land of the Keys to find meaning in his life. There, he befriends his fishing guide, an embittered Native American, Tommy Tarpon, the last surviving member of his tribe. Wishing to bestow a mitzvah on his new pal, Murray persuades Tommy to look into opening a legal gambling casino on the last, stinking bit of tribal land. Trouble comes in the form of greedy state senator Barney LaRue and Miami mafia kingpin Charlie Ponte, who scheme to take over the proposed operation. Fighting back, the Bra King and the Indian enlist a crew of crusaders including Murray's first wife, his business manager, his psychiatrist and Bert the Shirt, a former mob capo. Shames doesn't quite match the inspired whackiness of Carl Hiaasen or the artful characterizations and plotting of Elmore Leonard, but he knows how to put his tongue in his cheek?and he keeps it firmly, entertainingly, in place throughout. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
| || Virgin Heat (1997)|
Sal Martucci was an up-and-comer in Paul Amaro's New York City Mob. He was even in love with Amaro's 17-year-old daughter, Angelina. But then he got busted, finked on the elder Amaro, and entered the witness-protection program. Now he tends bar at various Key West hangouts and picks up a little extra cash as a bagman for a local loan shark. When Angelina sees a friend's Florida vacation video and catches a glimpse of the bartender in the background, she takes an unannounced trip to the Keys, where, with the help of Michael, a young gay man also looking for love, she trolls the bars looking for her long-ago Mr. Right. Daddy Amaro, recently out of prison, is frantic. Also in the mix are two deftly handled subplots involving a shipment of contraband destined for Cuba and Angelina's heretofore disregarded Uncle Louie and his newly discovered self-respect. Though the players all have connections to the criminal life, this is not a crime novel; it's a love story in which Angelina discovers the difference between the idea of love and the reality, and Sal realizes that he gave up a lot more than his identity when he turned the Feds on to Paul Amaro's Mob activities. This extraordinary novel clearly puts Shames in the company of Leonard and Hiaasen as a chronicler of southern Florida life. Wes Lukowsky
| || Mangrove Squeeze (1998)|
From Publishers Weekly
Mixing crime and comedy in Key West into fluffy confections has worked well for Shames, but his latest (after Virgin Heat) falls a little flat. Maybe it's because the ingredients are so familiar: a spunky young woman who sells ads for a local handout but yearns to break a big story; an earnest ex-Wall Streeter who runs a struggling guest house; a gaggle of Russian mobsters skimming American cream at the ocean's edge. Toss in a pair of philosophical drifters living in an abandoned giant hot dog and a couple of old men in various stages of eccentricity and you've got a book with a terminal case of the cutes. There are bright moments: when Mangrove Arms owner Aaron Katz wakes at 5 a.m. "because the woman who was supposed to do the breakfast called to say her tattoo had started bleeding underneath her skin and she couldn't work that day." Or when Aaron's half-batty father overhears some Russian-speakers in a Key West bar and is transported back to his East European youth. Or when Suki Sperakis, New Jersey's gift to Key West journalism, tries to convince a local cop to call in the FBI after she has been strangled and left for dead by a Russian who runs a chain of T-shirt shops ("The FBI? Suki, jampacked 747s are falling from the sky, large public buildings are being blown off their foundations, small wars are being fought against skinhead lunatics in Idaho and Texas, and I'm supposed to call the FBI because you don't like the T-shirt shops?"). Sad to say, it would take many more such moments to make this light, trite souffle stand. $250,000 ad/promo; special promotion in which 10 booksellers will win a trip to Key West.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
| || Welcome to Paradise (1999)|
From Publishers Weekly
His seventh comic thriller set in the Florida Keys finds Shames running out of fun. The usual suspects make up the cast of charactersbumbling two-bit Mafioso grifters and hitmen who find themselves in ludicrous situationsbut the players seem perfunctorily one-dimensional, and their predicaments, while humorous in premise, come off contrived rather than comic. Minor mobster Nicky Scotto is convinced that rival Big Al Marracottaa five-foot midget who replaced him as boss of the Mafia-run Fulton Fish Marketpoisoned him with bad clams. He enlists Chop Parilla, a Hialeah hot car dealer and his henchman, Squid Berman, to even the score. They plan to get Big Al when hes on vacation in Key West with his willowy girlfriend, Katy Sansone. The two hoods think theyve found their victim, except theres more than one guy in Key West with Big Al license plates. When Squid and Chop mistakenly zero in on hulking Al Tuschman, former high school football hero and Jersey furniture salesman, they play tepid dirty tricks such as putting 50 pounds of spoiled calamari in the wrong Als Lexus, and a live lobster in his bed. Ultimately, Katy becomes fed up with being the sex toy of the degenerate mini-mobster Al, and opts for Al the gentle giant. Meanwhile, Nicky, anxious to regain his former position as head honcho of the fish market, contracts a hit to assassinate his rival. The new lovers, Al and Katy, are entertaining characters, but their amiable romance doesnt keep the plot from getting corny or tired. Unlike his bestselling contemporaries Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen, who consistently bring freshness to similar material, Shames seems to have misplaced the enthusiasm that marked his early work (Florida Straits, etc.).
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
| || The Naked Detective (2000)|
From Publishers Weekly
Shames's eighth Key West novel (after Welcome to Paradise) has its moments of charm and interest, especially when narrator Pete Amsterdam, debuting here, describes the particular pleasures of the setting: "Key West is a place to withdraw to, a retreat without apology or shame. And you learn things from the place you live. One of the things Key West teaches is that disappointment and contentment can go together more easily than you would probably imagine." Pete has learned this lesson well, as a man both disappointed (by his lack of success, especially with women) and contented (with his cozy house and the freedom to indulge his three main interests--wine, music and tennis--without actually working). Unfortunately, his accountant has talked Pete into getting a PI's license for tax reasons, and that's where the trouble begins--for Pete as well as for the novel. Shames does provide a few original touches--for example, the well-built blonde who arrives early on to hire Peter (and catches him naked in the hot tub) and who turns out to be a cross-dressing man. But the plot quickly bogs down into a routine search for two missing mail pouches buried on a spit of sand, sought after by not only Pete and his soon-to-be-late client but also by the usual assortment of local thugs and corrupt cops. Too bad. Amsterdam and his main squeeze, a lithe yoga instructor named Maggie, deserve better next time out. Author tour. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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