- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 14, 2004

The name of Tim Dorsey, author of Cadillac Beach (William Morrow, $24.95, 339 pages) is fit to be spoken in the same sentence, if not necessarily the same breath, as Donald Westlake, undisputed king of the caper.

In fact, not even Mr. Westlake’s Dortmunder gang is quite as around the bend as little Serge, who has been off his meds entirely too long, thank goodness. Serge’s inspired insanity takes the reader on a tour of Miami Beach that could only be achieved by someone with a seriously bent perception of reality.

Plot: You are asking about the plot. Well, it’s a fair question except that I have been on my meds entirely too long to describe it. It does contain some stolen diamonds left over from when Murph the Surf and his gang hijacked the jewel collection from … you don’t remember that because you were too young. How about Bay of Pigs? Fidel Castro? Please tell me you know that name.

Anyway. Serge has an agenda that includes solving his grandfather’s murder and upending Fidel Castro while finding some lost diamonds and starting his own business. All this from a man who has trouble telling the proverbial hawk from a handsaw. (May I show off and inform you that a hawk in this case is a tool used by a mason to hold mortar? Haven’t you always wanted to know that?)

Oh, never mind. Mr. Dorsey — who probably has a Mensa-quality mind — manages to make it all make sense, or at least makes us think it makes sense, at least to Serge, who has a firm grip on an alternate reality. Do drop by there for a visit.

• • •

Laughter, more laughter, we need laughter, so Donna Andrews is giving us We’ll Always Have Parrots (Thomas Dunne Books, $23.95, 293 pages) to help us survive February. Blacksmith Meg Langslow has followed her luscious and intelligent significant other, academician and actor Michael, to a convention of fans of the sword-and-sorcery TV serial “Porforia, Queen of the Jungle.”

It’s no accident that Serge and Porforia appear in the same column of reviews because reality gets so twisted at a fan convention that Serge wouldn’t even show up on the weirdness radar.

However, Meg knows that even by those standards things are getting out of hand when the waiter delivers an Amazon gray parrot along with room service and the front desk tells her she will have to wait until people with multiple parrots get helped first. And then there are the monkeys. The monkeys set the parrots loose but nobody is confessing to releasing the monkeys. Thank goodness the tiger is still in her cage. The tiger is still in her cage, isn’t she? Yes, at least until the penultimate scene.

Of course, there is a murder. The pain in the butt who plays the imperious Porforia turns up dead and investigators are presented with a surfeit of suspects. Including Michael, who wants off the series because it is beginning to interfere with his attempt to attain tenure at a small Southern college. Michael had taken his part for one episode and proved so popular that he’s become a regular, a regular with a contract he is expected to honor.

Meg must solve the murder. … No, not just because Michael is a suspect. Because she is incorrigibly nosy and inherently unable to leave this sort of puzzle alone. It’s probably genetic. Just take a look at her father, the doctor.

In fact, take a look at everyone in “Parrots,” and, if you haven’t already read it, the same author’s “Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon.” We need all the help we can get to make it through February.

• • •

Alan Gordon is doing his part by providing An Antic Disposition (St. Martin’s Minotaur, $24.95, 337 pages), a continuation of his history of the secret guild of fools. Do fools rule the world, as we sometimes suspect? No, because if they did it would be a much more rational place. Kings wouldn’t be killing kings in medieval Denmark and Shakespeare would not have had a plot for “Hamlet.”

“Antic” gives us a behind-the-scenes look as the Fools’ Guild attempts to head off yet another civil war in Denmark. The attempt proves fatal for “poor Yorick” as Mr. Gordon again reveals the story behind the story of Shakespeare’s plays.

Shakespeare is a hard act to follow but Mr. Gordon does so with grace and ease — or at least so much skill that it looks like ease. This series about an international organization of very wise fools attempting to head off wars is a growing delight. You think you don’t like Shakespeare? Take a look at him through Mr. Gordon’s eyes.

Judith Kreiner is a copy editor at The Washington Times.

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