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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Grift in the Desert: A Jackalope, Some Bafflegab, & the American Dream

A pair of sexy and highly-skilled grifters--fresh from their most-lucrative con job to date--decide to bow out at the top of their game, leaving behind all the glitz, glamour, and thrills in favor of a new pursuit: getting their own little piece of The American Dream (modest home and one-eared rescue dog, included).
Meanwhile, their lovable-but-dim buddy--who wouldn’t know a successful scam if it walked up and slapped him upside the head (which is, by the way, totally likely)--gets a wild hare to try his luck in the art world... as an artist. (This, despite the fact that his friends know he can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.)
The setting for their respective suburban dreams and grandiose schemes? Unassuming Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Yes, it’s a little, erm, off the beaten path--especially for anyone who isn’t from there--but you try finding a good place to “go straight” when you’ve been scamming your way along the West Coast and through the Southwest for the past several years, and... let's just say that all this unassuming-ness starts to hold a certain appeal.)  
Of course, that’s taking for granted that life works out all nice and tidy, though... and when is that ever the case? There’s always a fly in the ointment (or the soup), a spanner in the works, a... well, you get the idea. It’s fine and dandy to have dreams--provided you’re not really expecting them to work out quite like you’re hoping. Actually, that pretty much sets up the action in John Vorhaus’ latest work, the divinely-madcap The Albuquerque Turkey.

Finding themselves more-than flush after their last (big!) score, Allie Quinn and (the oh-so-delightfully-named) Radar Hoverlander agree that this is the perfect opportunity to renounce their swindlin’ ways and try for a more normal life--one with paychecks, taxes, and regular hours. Even Radar’s old friend/constant sidekick, the hapless Vic Mirplo, is on board with their plan (especially so after he hatches his own get-rich-quick-as-an-artist scheme, which--given his utter lack of any artistic talent whatsoever--rather misses the whole point of going straight... except that it doesn’t. But more about that, later.)
Things go well enough, at first; Allie scours the classifieds, Radar daydreams (okay, not terribly productive, but even ex-hustlers need a little downtime, right?), and Vic proceeds to paint nude models, construct increasingly-bizarre (yet somehow, oddly-compelling) sculptures, plus concoct plans for the quasi-artful mutilation of a shipment of deformed Barbie dolls. (Don’t ask; just trust me--that last one's disturbingly hilarious.)
Until one day, that is, when the fly I mentioned earlier crash-lands in the ointment (or the soup, your choice), in the guise of an unfortunately-dowdy woman... a woman who appears to be tailing Radar, seeing as how she starts popping up everywhere he goes. (Given the precise nature of his illustrious former career, the idea of someone sneaking around, following him--even a frumpy, middle-aged woman--isn’t exactly cause for celebration.) Nor do things really improve much after Radar's double- and triple-takes, during which he gradually comes to recognize this homely matron as none other than his long-estranged father--the infamous Woody Hoverlander, con man extraordinaire--in drag. (As reunions go, though, it’s a corker.)
It doesn’t take a genius to intuit that when Dad shows up out of the blue--two decades after doing a bunk--to say “howdy” to his suddenly-comfortably-well-off son, he probably wants something more than a reunion supper at the local steak-atorium. (No, Radar isn’t up there with the likes of Einstein, but he’s smart and savvy enough to have a clue.) Still...  it’s his dad! After all these years! And he’s a legend!
About that “legendary” bit... Woody is, indeed, widely-known and even respected in their, erm, field; the man has pulled every snuke around dozens of times, and probably invented a fair number of them, in the first place. But now, he’s in big trouble; he owes money (which--inconveniently--he no longer has) to one of the premier Vegas hotels, where he claims to have racked up some smallish debts. So (and you know where this is going, don’t you?), Radar--against his better judgement and Allie’s conflicted wishes--agrees to help, almost eager, even, to play the long-abandoned son riding in on a white stallion to rescue his old man. (Okay, no horses are involved, and Woody isn’t really all that old. I’m just taking a page out of Vic Mirplo’s book and using a little bit of artistic license.)
Naturally, everything falls apart (doesn’t it always?), and after all the dust settles, Radar finds himself sans girlfriend (she’s not a fan of whatever else he’s going to have to do to extricate Woody from this mess), sans happy doggie (since Allie took him with her on her way out the door), and--although not necessarily the most-worrisome out of the three--sans newly-reacquainted father (because annoyed Vegas thugs have nabbed Woody and absconded back to Sin City with him). Really, the only thing on the plus side is that Vic actually seems to be creating a buzz with his new-found passion in life, art. (Yeah, who knew?) And, thank goodness for that, because Vic (or “Mirplo”, the one-named wonder he’s restyled himself as) is about to feature significantly in Radar’s new plan; Mirplo will play the Albuquerque Turkey--rich rube/ budding artist (and star of Mirplopalooza!), and, hopefully, utterly-irresistible bait to these particular Vegas sharks.
You can guess what happens next. (Okay, you really can’t--at least, not most of it--but you know the very next thing, which is all I’m shooting for, here.) Radar finds himself on a long (and lonely) drive to Vegas, ready to don his sparkliest flim-flam man persona and attempt to play out the whole hero scene one more time. (Yes, because it worked so smashingly-well the first time. Ah, but hope springs eternal.) Little does he know what lies in store... 
Does Radar’s witty "bafflegab" and uncanny ability to think (and act) on his feet save the day (and save his father)? Do more bad guys pop out of the woodwork than cleavage is popping out of the hostesses’ bustiers in the casino’s gaming rooms? Are there double-, triple-, heck--maybe even quadruple-crosses, galore? Will Allie ever reconsider her position and relent, or is she gone with the wind? Can Mirplo really make it as The Next Great Thing? Does Radar at least get his dog back??  
(Seriously, like you think I’d tell you? Ha, fat chance.)
~ ♠ ~ ♣ ~ ♥ ~ ♦ ~

The Albuquerque Turkey is more sheer fun than I’ve found between the covers of a book in a long time--the kind of story that had me sitting there grinning like a Cheshire cat the whole time I was reading it. There's some everything-but-the-kitchen-sink stuff going on here... but in a really good way, with schemes and scams, art, romance, hijinks, and that ever-present sense of humor. It's a deliciously-outrageous lark (with a groove a bit like Carl Hiaasen’s storytelling). Many scenes seem to come almost (but not quite) out of left field, with tons of belly laughs as well as a few of those hold-your-breath, how-are-they-ever-gonna-get-out-of-this-predicament moments. The end result is one very twisty ride, told in a slick, cool way (think the Ocean’s Eleven movies), and each character is an absolute hoot--bigger than life, yet somehow never crossing the line into total caricature. 
That brings me to the final thing. You wouldn’t expect it, most likely--I didn’t, and I’m a huge fan of clever plots and bon mots and, well, this whole genre--but The Albuquerque Turkey has a little sumthin-sumthin special that puts it a notch above the rest of the pack... a genuine heart and soul at its core--the bubble gum nestled in the center of a Charm’s Blowpop, if you like--and that softer, sweeter interior works to temper the wild-and-wooly exterior, brilliantly. (As an example, here's my favorite non-funny line in the entire book: "Everybody's on their own road, Radar. And every road is hard. No need to strew nails." Perfection, that.) 


For an all-out, satisfying bit of feel-good fun, this is one hand that’s gonna be hard to beat.
GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 4.5 out of 5 mousies!