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Author: Steven M. Forman

Publisher: Forge Books

ISBN: 978-0-7653-2876-2

Superman Eddie Perlmutter strikes again. In another gambol through the Elysian fields of a mythical and ribald Floridian retiree-land, PI Eddie solves a dizzying list of cases: he takes down a pill mill as a favor to a retired and dying gangster; he solves the murder of a homeless man who dresses like Emmett Kelly’s Weary Willy; and he exposes a Ponzi scheme where the evil genius is Bernie Maddoff’s next-door neighbor. And, oh yes, he successfully concludes the search for a missing person, an irascible and secretive Mr. Johnson. There is action and there are laughs. However, if you’re left wondering where’s the beef, you’re not alone.

Books like this serve much the same function as many shows on TV: You don’t have to think too much about weighty matters, the characters are charming and amusing stereotypes, and the scenes are as comfortable as a pair of old, smelly sneakers. This book is entertaining but forgettable—sometimes that’s just what the doctor ordered. You can read it in an evening, preferably with some good Irish whiskey (more on that later). It’s light entertainment, except for the Maddoff clone, whose crime has violent consequences for Eddie and friends—in the real world, not this Floridian wonderland, Bernie just stuck to ruining people’s lives, not killing them.

In both style and story, this book is the poor cousin to some of Hiaasen’s work—similar for its focus on the seamy side of Florida—and a bit farther removed from Harlan Coben’s Martin Bolitar series. It’s fun but flawed in comparison. For example, in addition to the plethora of cases solved in this one book by Forman’s superman PI, it’s macho-oriented. That might be appropriate for your average Floridian male retiree and also typical of this genre (Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip comes to mind as a welcome exception), but I think today’s authors have to be a wee bit more open-minded if they want to have female readers. Forman treats women as either old-fashioned stereotypes (Eddie’s live-in girlfriend Claudette is a nurse, is half his age, and takes care of her man) or victims (Three Bag Baily, the estranged and also homeless wife of Weary Willy, and computer conman and hacker Lou Dewey’s girl friend Joy Feely, are notable victims).

Other stereotypes abound. One worthwhile mentioning here is Mad Mick Murphy, a freelancer and, like Eddie, a refugee from cold Bostonian winters. Mick plays an important role in some of Eddie’s cases written about here. He also introduces Eddie to Jameson’s, quaffed by many Irishmen (including yours truly), so Mick is a good boy scout, although the portrayal of Mick as the stereotypical Irish drunk might offend a few metrosexuals in both Boston and New York City. Diversity? Here the good guys are only white, the evil pill doctor is Indian, and Florida has no Hispanics (the Cuban boxer kid is also black—Forman makes him a mama’s boy instead of a gangbanger).

Technically speaking, by providing an excellent example of how to write an entertaining novel, Mr. Forman shines. The dialog sparkles; the plot moves along, even if it’s confusing at times; the characters are fun stereotypes; and, by writing in the first person, you get to know Eddie very well (maybe too well?). This is one of those fluffy if complicated PI mysteries or spy thrillers that have entertained us for years. From Colombo to Castle, we’ve grown accustomed to them on TV and they have slowly crept into the mystery and suspense genre. Eddie is a 61-year-old Jewish James Bond, shaking if not stirring up the retiree scene—if that’s not tongue-in-cheek, I don’t know what is.

Nevertheless, Eddie Perlmutter is also an enigma. Unlike most of the characters in this book, he’s not a stereotype. Since the story is told in the first person, I didn’t really get a chance to paint a physical picture of him in my mind’s eye, but I was very much in his mind. His superhero antics are a good six sigma away from the norm of your average Floridian retiree. Of course, since he’s a PI, he’s an ex-cop, from the mean streets of Boston, no less. In fact, his life in Boston, considering the era, must have been interesting—tough cop, boxing mini-legend, possessing first-hand knowledge of old Boston’s underbelly, with friends in Florida that are fellow retirees from Boston’s criminal underworld, Eddie is a character who could have grown up in Southie instead of Brookline, except for not being acquainted with Jameson’s. Moreover, within his tough shell is a heart of gold—a man who feels intensely even if he can’t cry.

While you can’t take this book seriously any more than any book in Ian Fleming’s James Bond series, there is more to Eddie and his adventures than the comic book quality of the British spy and his campaign to keep the sun from setting on the British empire. Forman writes dystopian sci-fi but just doesn’t realize it. Like Hiassen, he paints a Florida landscape that is both humorous and sad, the latter because it reeks of the decay of modern society as we stumble towards that social singularity where problems become so complex that our institutions can’t solve them; where adequate medical attention is considered charity rather than necessity; where the widening gap between rich and middle class create more and more homeless; and where violent gangs control our inner cities.

I know both Boston and Boca well—they are just different aspects of the physical and moral decay of our society. Forman makes us laugh at it—maybe that’s a good thing?

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