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Book Review
Sunday, August 19, 2012
eBooks Make Shames' Key West Mysteries New Again

"Mangrove Squeeze" by Laurence Shames (Smashwords edition, Kindle format, $2.51)

Don't you just love ebooks, a whole 'nother way of reading novels? This phenomenon has been a boon for authors too, sometimes creating a publishing venue for new novels, oftentimes providing a second life for older titles.

That seems to be the case with the Key West mysteries by Laurence Shames as his already-published ink-on-paper books pop up in Kindle and other ebook formats. For those who haven't read him, this is a treat. No longer need you haunt old bookstores or search Amazon for used book dealers, for these fresh-as-new electronic editions are easy to acquire -- and cost less than the hardback version.

His eight Key West novels include such titles as "Tropical Depression," "Florida Straights" and "Virgin Heat."

Typical of Shames' newly released ebooks is "Mangrove Squeeze," a rollicking tale about an ex-Wall Street guy who manages a struggling guesthouse in Key West; a pretty wannabe journalist who crosses paths with the Russian mafia; assorted thugs and numerous local eccentrics.

Corpses start piling up around the Mangrove Arms when owner Aaron Katz tries to protect Suki the journalist from Lazlo Kalyanin, a baddie who uses his string of T-shirt shops to deal in plutonium. This has all the prerequisite ingredients of a Shames mystery: "Palm trees, high humidity, dogs in sunglasses and New York mobsters blundering through a town where people are too laid back to be afraid of them," as Larry himself describes the formula.

He's worked as a taxi driver, lounge singer, furniture mover, dishwasher and shoe salesman. As he likes to tell it, he "turned to writing full-time in 1976 and has not done an honest day's work since."

A 1991 bestseller called "Boss of Bosses" allowed him to buy a place in Key West. Back in the 1990s, he was a fixture on the island, cranking out almost a novel per year. "I liked playing against the stereotype of Key West as a lazy place full of do-nothing knuckleheads," he says of his light-hearted stories.

These days he often ghostwrites books or publishes under a pseudonym. His latest title is "The Angels' Share," the first novel written under his own name in a dozen years. Although it tells three intertwined love stories, you'll be delighted to find the comic touch that's so typical of Laurence Shames.

But we'll get to that book later. Right now I'm too busy reading his Key West mysteries on my Kindle Fire.

-- Reviewed

by Shirrel Rhoades

"The Heart of William James," Edited by Robert Richardson (Harvard University Press, $18.95)

We enjoyed this collection of essays (now available in paperback) by biographer Robert Richardson, author of "William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism."

A resident with his wife, Annie Dillard, of Key West and Wellfleet, Mass., Bob makes the reading of William James -- the philosopher-psychologist brother of novelist Henry and diarist Alice -- a thrilling and abiding experience.

In this collection you can read about war (in one of the greatest pieces on the subject ever written), habit, will power, the hidden self and much more.

In the middle of the book, three essays take a close look at what it really means to be a modern American (surprisingly modern, considering they were written over a century ago): "The Gospel of Relaxation," "On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings" and "What Makes Life Significant."

The one on relaxation is particularly lovely. Writes Richardson:

"'The Gospel of Relaxa-tion' shows us the side of William James that embraced popular psychology and self-help -- the practical application of psychology to American life." Here he argues that we "act first and feeling follows ... 'Brighten the eye,' says James, 'pass the genial compliment' and you will find yourself feeling better about the person you are with ... We may well suspect that psychological self-help books had by 1900 come to serve the function once performed only by manuals of practical piety. In so much of daily life, it is what you do, not what you feel, that matters. James also reaches out to and embraces the then-current self-help manual, 'Power through Repose,' which argues that Americans in particular are too tensed up and need to let go a little more, rather than to clench the fist and struggle harder."

There is an excellent interview with Bob Richardson conducted by Arlo Haskell currently posted in Littoral, the website of the Key West Literary Seminar, which gives deep background on the art of biography.

-- Recommended

by Mark Howell