Note to self: Avoid Florida. As if Carl Hiaasen's entire ouevre hadn't provided warning enough, now comes a new novel by Dave Barry, adding further weight to the Redneck Riviera's anti-PR campaign. Granted, Barry reports on his home state's weirdness with something that reads suspiciously like affection but then again, he lives there, and probably can't be trusted.

Based on the evidence provided in the humor columnist's second novel, living in Florida is likely to get you shot up, shot down, beaten, bitten, electrocuted, castrated, thrown overboard and/or bombarded by show tunes. Tricky Business is a rollicking crime caper set aboard the Extravaganza of the Seas, a gambling cruise ship, during the violent tropical storm Hector. The ship belongs to Bobby Kemp, sleazebag entrepreneur and millionaire owner of the Miami fast-food chain the Happy Conch. Bobby knows his ship is being used to launder Mafia money; what he doesn't know is exactly what else the mobsters are up to onboard the Extravaganza. But he intends to find out. Devising a plan in his small but infinitely greedy brain, Bobby can scarcely imagine that his actions will have repercussions for a long-legged cocktail waitress, a crotchety pair of retirement-home residents, a talentless bar band, a bunch of brainless thugs and, ever so tragically, nine tabloid TV journalists who nobly sacrifice themselves in pursuit of a hot story.

Barry is one writer smart enough to skip anything that might resemble boring exposition; the whole book is either rapid-fire dialogue or high-speed slapstick suitable for an action flick. Arnie and Phil, the two curmudgeonly nursing-home escapees, provide some priceless repartee, and the stoners in the house band of the Extravaganza are hysterically bone-headed. A couple of brutal torture scenes might leave Barry's Sunday-paper readership clucking their tongues, but he does put a warning at the front of the book, so it really isn't his fault if some readers get upset. Excluding, of course, the members of the Florida tourism board. They're probably the only ones capable of reading this book with a straight face. Becky Ohlsen writes from Portland, Oregon.

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