If they can make a song into a movie (a la `"The Gambler") these days, why not a column into a novel? Assuming this feat is feasible, what better columnist to transform into a fiction writer than Pulitzer Prize-winning funnyman Dave Barry of the Miami Herald? His newspaper pieces aren't exactly grounded in non-fiction to begin with.
Barry's first novel will not disappoint his legion of fans. "Big Trouble'' is populated by a zany cast of South Florida oddballs, down-and-outers and likable semi-losers who keep bumping into one another at the most unlikely moments to keep the plot rollicking along. The author makes fun of just about everything along the way: modern journalism, public-relations types, security guards and systems, dogs and large South American toads.
One of the main characters is self-employed PR person Eliot Arnold, who left journalism (by kicking in his editor's PC screen) because his bosses kept trying to make him write serious articles rather than features. "They preferred issue stories, which were dense wads of facts, written by committees, running five or six parts under some title that usually had the word 'crisis' in it,'' Barry writes of Arnold's alleged superiors. "These stories, which were heavily promoted and often won journalism contests, were commonly referred to in the newsroom as 'megaturds.'"
The Barry style is clearly there, if toned down somewhat (except for the language, which is often way bad), and it keeps the reader engaged as the alleged plot unfolds. The intrigue involves hit men hired by an evil company, inept police and security folk, teenage shenanigans that result in flying lead and a portable atom bomb. Just another day in wacky South Florida.
It is a quick, easy and enjoyable read (large type and lots of short chapters help), a book that would have made a terrific spring release as a candidate for Beach Book of the Year. If there is trouble with "Big Trouble," it is the faint disappointment that it could have been more than simply the column as fiction. The reader gets a sense at the end that the author is glad he can end it when he does and be done with it.
Perhaps a novel set in a South Florida newsroom would have a more satiric bite to it. That may have to await the author's retirement.