- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 8, 2006

Tim Dorsey’s latest, he Big Bamboo (Morrow, $24.95, 352 pages), asks the question: Is Hollywood ready for a visit from Serge and Coleman? It has survived earthquakes, brush fires and mudslides, but a visit from the chemically enhanced Serge — who is crazy, to boot — might well be the ultimate challenge.

Describing the plot of a Dorsey book is not merely difficult, it’s pointless. It takes the author 352 pages to unfold and not one page is superfluous. So we are going to summarize it in four paragraphs? Right. Yes, there is a plot and, as usual, it takes the reader for a crazy ride, kind of like Ninja motorcyclists. And, as always in a Dorsey book, you do not want to read it in public because people will point and stare at the poor soul sitting there snickering and laughing.

Not surprisingly, “Bamboo” involves a movie in progress. A movie on track to set records as the industry’s longest, most overbudget flop. Add Serge and Coleman transplanted from their natural habitat of Southern Florida, where the predators have learned that patting this porcupine nets a pawful of pain. Combine with the particular peculiar fauna of La-La Land, where Serge just might not be the craziest person in the room. Add a chair where you will not be disturbed for a couple of hours. Enjoy.

Randy Wayne White, whose life on the Gulf Coast of Florida took a beating in the past hurricane season, offers us an unusually pensive, even romantic Doc Ford tale in his latest, Dark Light (Putnam, $24.95, 336 pages).

A hurricane has hit Doc Ford’s home and laboratory on Sanibel Island (where Mr. White was a fishing guide for 13 years) and every part of his life has been upended and twirled. It has left him rootless and restless and ready to take part when it seems the ocean has given back a wreck and treasure.

Treasure always seems to carry a curse, stated or otherwise, and this trove is no exception. Good people die and nasty people flourish, at least for a while.

And there is a woman. Mr. White does his female characters proud and Chestra is no exception. Is she real or has Doc Ford somehow conjured her out of an illusion? Remember the song “Laura”? That is Chestra. Somehow she is linked to the treasure and every plot line eventually leads back to her. And then she is gone.

Mr. White’s writing, as usual, is excellent and his plotting invites us all to come along for the ride. But this time around the ride resembles a spin through the fun house at the carnival, where reality and illusion are difficult to tell apart.

Supposedly James D. Doss writes about Charlie Moon, who works as a detective to support his ranching habit, but in his latest, Shadow Man (St. Martin’s Minotaur, $23.95, 326 pages), Charlie’s aunt, Daisy Perika, tucks the book under her arm and walks away with it.

If you’ve read any of Janet Evanovich’s numbered Stephanie Plum mysteries, you’ve encountered Grandma Mazur. Well, these two old ladies — Grandma and Daisy — are sisters under the skin. Grandma views the dead at the local funeral home, which is gossip central for the neighborhood. Daisy talks to the dead who seem to find her wherever she is and they prove just as informative. Grandma is a Catholic Hungarian. Daisy is a Ute shaman who is trying very hard to be a Catholic, but it’s difficult when the local Ute spirits keep intervening.

Neither woman should be behind the wheel of a car but some of the funniest parts of “Shadow Man” occur when Daisy decides anyone can drive. The havoc is best described by Mr. Doss. After all it does lead to the apprehension of a murderer.

Mr. Doss always rewards a reader with the pleasure of Charlie’s company, but even characters who merely pass through the plot are well drawn and fully developed. Witness the woman who runs a gas station/general store.

Any Charlie Moon mystery contains elements that could be supernatural, or merely the meandering mind of an old woman. Me, I’ll bet on the Ute shaman any time.

Nothing is quite what it seems in The Mask of Atreus (Berkley, $7.99, 387 pages), the first novel of A.J. Hartley and the introduction of Deborah Miller, a museum curator who was born to solve mysteries. Her debut case involves the murder of her mentor and the uncovering of a cache of Mycenaean or Minoan artifacts (think very early Greek) that would cause fainting fits at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Perhaps. Or are they very well done forgeries? And why does her mentor have them carefully displayed in a hidden room in his home?

More to the point, why did someone kill Richard Dixon, founder of a small but rich museum and father figure to Deborah?

This one wanders through two particularly interesting (read: bloodshed, armies, looting and death) eras of history and spends quite a few pages in Greece. Having visited the sites Mr. Hartley describes, I can attest to the accuracy of his descriptions, though I have not yet made it to the Pushkin Museum in Moscow to see the gold of Troy. But it is on the list.

This one has a surprise twist to the plot that you won’t see coming — though it makes perfect sense in context. If this is how Mr. Hartley starts out, it will be interesting to see what comes next.

Judith Kreiner is a copy editor at The Washington Times who travels extensively.

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