If there are beach books, why not reads to dispel cabin-fever winter blues? Dennis Hart’s zany murder farce Gulf Boulevard (The Permanent Press) would certainly qualify. It’s a hoot, laugh-out-loud funny in spots, if slightly flawed, but the epigraphs alone are worth the price of entry. The prologue is from Einstein: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”
Each chapter then has its own quotation, which relates (with a stretch) to the content.
Hart’s oddball adventure romp follows a loony, likeable narrator, 28-year-old Jason Najarian (a name not easy to remember or pronounce correctly and a gag that goes on a bit too long), as he comes upon some incredible good luck. But not before a prologue sets the stage for the action: a last-minute contract assigned to big Salvatore “Sally” Scalise, a Mafia hit man in Providence, RI, who carries it out. Only he hits the wrong guy, and a buddy advises that Sally get his ass outta town immediately. Switch to Jason.
An accountant in freezing-cold Boston, Jason is totally bored with his dopey job at a rope manufacturing company, and deep into fantasies of Southern warmth and desert-island solitude (prompted in large part by his ditzy ex-wife Megan whom he never should have married).
He notices one morning in a scoop of his favorite M & Ms that he has come up with eight buttons, all green. How odd is that! Taking this miraculous event as a portent, he goes to his favorite deli for lunch and decides to fill out a lottery ticket. And would you believe! He hits the jackpot which is $63 million, though even he can’t believe it—he constantly invokes the spectre of PMS— Pessimistic Magnet Syndrome, “whereby I attract all thoughts negative.” But he has indeed won and takes what’s left after taxes, in cash.
A good heart, he donates to charity and buys his (divorced) parents houses of their own. And then, with the help of a short, sarcastic real estate agent, Phyllis Hammerstein, aka The Hammer, he soon finds himself “the proud owner of a $1.2 million home on a barrier island off the west coast of Florida—“situated in a hurricane zone, with a tide of oil-polluted water drifting somewhere offshore.” And he buys himself a gorgeous powerboat which he names Ticket to Ride.
In a predictable but satisfying (because of the predictability) bit of plotting, Hart delays bringing Jason and Sal together 2,000 miles from their native ground, but the reader knows it’s coming.
Just as inevitably, the reader also knows that Jason will hardly be alone, though he’s determined to share Hermitville only with Harry the Heron and Montana, a talking African Grey Parrot. Montana used to belong to Mafiosi who taught it almost the entire script of Scarface, and the sounds of an M-16 assault rifle.
Whadda mouth on that bird. Jason loves his house, his beach—he rakes the sand!—and the creatures he sees there, even the “geico,” he tells The Hammer. “It’s ‘gecko,’ Mr. Najarian. When we get back to my office, I’ll give you a coloring book so you can learn the names and color all the wildlife you’ve seen.”
It’s obvious to his new neighbors that Jason has money, though only his relatives and annoying ex-wife, who tries to insinuate herself back into his life, know its source.
The one exception he would make to his desire for solitude is Fiona Tallahassee, aka Running Bush (!), a gorgeous young woman who drifts in (and out of) his new life. She identifies herself as a Native American on a tribal mission, but she hangs out with a 400-lb. “free-farting, tough-guy, possible Mafia-guy-type music producer,” Sal. And Sal hangs out with a “sappy, obnoxious, French greeting-card writer.”
A motley cast of secondary characters in various stages of absurdity, they all round out the lunatic fringe around Jason, who’s not that rationally cautious anyway. They ensure that suspense will always be suspended to accommodate antic behavior and smart-ass dialogue, and that Jason (and Harry and Montana) will go on (to another book).