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Literature / Tricky Business

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A novel by Dave Barry. Like his previous foray into fiction, Big Trouble, Tricky Business is set in Miami and concerns the interlocking stories of several quirky characters. It's another spoof of the crime drama, this time set on a casino cruise liner and involving a man dressed like a giant conch shell, air bag deployers that spray garbage on you instead of air bags, and the world's most valuable lifeboat.

The book provides examples of:

  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: Johnny and the Contusions got their name from an incident where band member Johnny got whacked in the head, and then later another member happened to mention "Johnny and his contusions".
  • Alter Kocker: Arnie and Phil. They're certainly old enough (83 and 81, respectively) and their speech is peppered with little Yiddishisms: "bupkis", "we know from X" instead of "we know X", Word, Schmord!, etc.
    Arnie: [watching a weather report] ...why bleach? Always with the hurricane, people are buying bleach.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: One of Tarant's mooks is tasked to drive the cigarette boat carrying himself, Tarant, and a crew of heavily-armed mooks out to sea to intercept the Extravaganza, in a tropical storm. He is so abjectly miserable that he flashes back to his teenage years, when he ignored his mother's pleas to follow his elder brother's example and become a CPA, saying he would never spend the rest of his life sitting behind a desk.
    I wish to God I was sitting behind a desk right now.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Bobby Kemp is so furious at being made an unwilling partner in the Mafia's money laundering and drug trade (especially since he isn't getting a cut) that he decides to "mastermind" a hijack of the next shipment; being, in Tark's estimation, "the perfect combination of greedy, confident, and stupid", this doesn't end well for him.
  • Bleak Abyss Retirement Home: Downplayed. Phil and Arnie live in a retirement home called the Beaux Arts Senior Living Center—or as Arnie calls it, the Old Farts Senile Dying Center. Not as bleak as some other examples of the trope, but certainly less pleasant than living independently. The staff isn't too rude or insulting (except for one guy who threatens to put Phil and Arnold in the Assisted Living wing, aka the loony bin), but they're not used to having their residents being very active, which could be chalked up to the large numbers of pills they hand out to every senior. Phil and Arnold bribe an orderly by giving him their allotted drugs, which he then sells at parties.
  • The Casanova:
    • Jock, the drummer in Wally's band. He's not a clever man, but he's very physically attractive and he makes that work for him. Many of the women he sleeps with (the book lists a few) are annoyed with their man or ex-man, and are looking to let off some steam.
      Jock's approach to women was: Move in close, keep talking, allow the women to be overcome by his studliness. This didn't always work, but it worked often enough that Jock had no reason to try another approach.
    • Eddie slept with many women, both single and married, in his days working on cruise ships. He actually preferred sleeping with married women because the risk made it more exciting. But that was decades ago; by the time the story begins, he is in a committed long-term relationship.
  • The Casino: Most of the action takes place aboard a cheap casino ship called the Extravaganza of the Seas. For legal reasons, the patrons can't start gambling until the ship is three miles out from shore.
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: Lou Tarant orders his assistant to assemble a crew of heavily-armed thugs on a speedboat to intercept the Extravaganza of the Seas; by the time Tarant arrives to take personal command of the crew, they have amassed "enough firepower to invade a small Third World country. Or France."
  • Cluster F-Bomb: So much so, Barry had to put a warning at the front of the book saying THIS BOOK CONTAINS BAD WORDS. Apparently he'd received some complaints after Big Trouble since normally his columns are family friendly. He just didn't think it'd be realistic to have his gangsters saying Gosh Dang It to Heck!.
  • Continuity Nod: To Big Trouble in the form of the song, "I Want Your Sex Pootie"
  • Contrived Coincidence: No fewer than five characters who are not allowed to be at the back of the ship choose to go back there, just in time to see the drug deal. And not just the usual drug deal, no. They get to see the one where Tark shoots everyone as part of the Evil Plan he's been brewing for the past two years.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Bobby Kemp, who made his fortune restoring air bags that had been deployed (it was cheaper to just throw whatever refuse was handy in the compartments and hope no one got in an accident), conch fritters without any conch in them (turns out the conch is the least appetizing part of the fritter), and bargain eye surgery (the guy was a drug-addicted ex-veterinarian who'd learned from a video, and wasn't half bad if your appointment was early enough in the day).
  • Deadline News: A running gag. A report about the electrocution of a boy in a flooded area with downed power lines leads to the deaths of nine reporters as they do all of the unsafe things they tell the audience not to do. Turns out that the little kid was fine.
  • Description Cut: When the guys on the Extravaganza are talking about the small boat they're meeting in the storm.
    "Because I wouldn't want to be them," said Eddie, looking at his radar. "Can't be comfortable, a boat like that, out in this."
    "They're fine," said Wilde. "They're professionals."
    In the main cabin of the Ship of Puke, Frank, gagging, struggled to a sitting position, his back against the counter.
  • Did Not Think This Through: Once upon a time, Eddie Smith had it all: a prestigious career as an officer for a cruise line, and a close-enough resemblance to Kevin Costner to "score" with dozens of women. He particularly enjoyed sleeping with married passengers, "but like most men whose brains are in their dicks, he was not really thinking things through." His career came to a screeching halt when one of his conquests had a guilt attack and confessed everything to her husband.
  • Dirty Old Man:
    • The "grandfatherly man" near the roulette tables who asks Fay for cranberry juice...and a sex act.
    • Arnie flirts outrageously with Mara, but they're friends and she's in on the joke.
  • Ditzy Secretary: Dee Dee, the secretary Bobby Kemp hired solely on the basis of having cleavage a small dog could get lost in. Her idea of keeping the press away consists of being at the door, turning her head to talk to the boss, then turning back to announce "he says he's not here".
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Nobody knows the real name of the homeless guy who wears the Conrad Conch costume, so everybody just calls him "Conrad". It's suggested that the guy himself might not remember his real name.
  • Evil Plan: This is one of the main villain's main mode of operating. Unfortunately for him his plan has the pleasure of being interrupted by several Spanner in the Works. This forces him to try out Xanatos Speed Chess... He isn't very successful
  • False Rape Accusation: Eddie Smith was drummed out of the cruise ship business when one of the female passengers he seduced confessed to her husband, claiming Eddie drugged her first. The Miami District Attorney decided not to file criminal charges, since it was fairly obvious (to everyone except the husband) that she was a willing participant, but Eddie still couldn't save his job.
  • Future Loser: Some of the main characters were in a band in high school. The problem is they're still in that band, into their early 30s and barely making rent.
  • Gasshole: Tina the croupier. Tall, blonde, gorgeous, breasts out to here...and constantly unleashing silent-but-deadly farts that leave her, in one character's words, "permanently surrounded by a green cloud".
  • Gibberish of Love: Wally, to Fay. It's bad enough the first time around ("The boat is going out."), but then he tries to plan out his opening lines beforehand, make a joke about the terrible weather...
    [What Wally planned to say]
    Wally: Lovely evening, isn't it? Hey, I don't want to make you nervous, but I think I saw Leonardo DiCaprio over by the craps table.
    [How the conversation actually went]
    Wally: Oh, hey there.
    Fay: Hi. I'm just on my way out to...
    Wally: Lovely weather, huh?
    Fay: Yeah, well, I don't mean to be rude, but...
    Wally: I thought I saw Leonardo da Vinci.
    Fay: What?
    Wally: DiCaprio, I mean. Leonardo DiCaprio.
    Fay: Leonardo DiCaprio?
    Wally: From the Titanic. Leonardo DiCaprio. So I don't want to make you nervous. Ha ha!
  • Goofy Suit: The Conrad Conch costume, Conrad being the mascot for Bobby Kemp's chain of conch fritter restaurants. It's big, pink, and made of foam, and it's almost impossible to see or hear anything while you're wearing it. Bobby usually pays this one homeless guy to wear it. But he wears it himself to sneak aboard the Extravaganza of the Seas incognito.
  • Healthcare Motivation: Having already served a prison sentence for smuggling cocaine in The '80s, Eddie had no desire to work for The Mafia ever again. But he agreed to take the job as captain of the Extravaganza because his young stepson needed a heart operation, and he had no other way to pay for it (as the man who came to hire him helpfully pointed out).
  • Hookers and Blow: How Eddie Smith spent the entirety of his earnings as a drug mule, before getting caught and arrested. It becomes a major source of self-loathing for him later, when he falls in genuine love with a woman whose son needs a heart operation that he could have paid for if he'd saved even a fraction of his earnings.
  • Identity Concealment Disposal: When the guy on the ship in the Conrad Conch costume finally takes the costume off. It's Bobby Kemp. He's among his accomplices at that point, so he has no reason to keep wearing it.
  • Intercourse with You: The song "I Want Your Sex Pootie" by the Seminal Fluids, which Johnny and the Contusions play on the ship. The lyrics are just the title repeated over and over.
  • Left for Dead: Tark duct-tapes Frank's bleeding mouth closed and leaves him to drown in his own blood and/or vomit (depending on how long he can keep swallowing). This comes back to bite Tark; see Taking You with Me.
  • Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club:
    • The Chum Bucket bar and restaurant (no relation), which is a front for Lou Tarant's organization and the casting-off point for the Extravaganza of the Seas. The Coast Guard knows all about it (referring to "our friends at the Chum Bucket"), but they haven't been able to prove anything yet.
    • The Extravaganza of the Seas itself is a downplayed example. It's a legitimate casino as far as the customers are concerned, and most of the employees are just ordinary workers who aren't in on the secret. Still, most of the employees who have been there long enough have figured out that something shady is going on, even if they aren't eager to find out the details.
  • Lost at Sea: Fay and Wally, after the former falls into the water and the latter swims to the rescue with a life preserver. The ship leaves them behind, and nobody is coming back for them anytime soon. Fortunately, a helicopter rescues them many hours later.
  • The Mafia: Lou Tarant is a high-ranking member, and Manny Arquero is one of his trusted underlings. They have full control over the Extravaganza of the Seas,note  and use it for money laundering and drug deals.
  • Mood Whiplash: In the most blatant example, we cut from a scene of one of Wally's bandmates comically failing to remember the lyrics to "My Funny Valentine" to a genuinely disturbing scene of Cold-Blooded Torture.
  • Mystery Meat: The band isn't sure what's in the food in the cruise ship, but they do know it gets reheated and reserved for at least a week before the cook throws it out and makes a new batch.
  • Naked People Are Funny: A naked Jock flees from the kitchen through the casino after another girl he'd been seeing happened on him comforting a "grieving" divorcee.
  • Nasal Trauma: After Frank comes to after being knocked out he wakes up to Tark shoving Juan's nose in his face. Tark had cut it off, and then decides to go further.
  • Only in Miami: Set mainly in the city and a ship sailing out of the city. Naturally, the plot revolves around a huge drug deal.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain:
    • Tark is openly racist and uses slurs against both Juan (who is Hispanic) and his own usual crew (black Bahamanians).
    • Bobby Kemp flings a few anti-Italian slurs at Lou Tarant once he catches on that Lou is a member of The Mafia. Lou soon frightens him into stopping.
  • Revenge Before Reason:
    • Bobby Kemp hates Lou Tarant's dragon Manny Arquero so much for humiliating him during a previous encounter that he eagerly embraces the part of Tark's plan that involves Kemp sneaking aboard the boat and shooting Arquero during the heist - which is a crucial component of Tark's plan to kill Kemp and frame him for the heist.
    • Mafia capo Lou Tarant is so enraged by the news that Kemp is attempting to hijack a shipment of drugs and money that he insists not only on sending a crew of heavily-armed thugs to intercept him, but on accompanying them himself. Several of his underlings advise him not to send a speedboat out in a tropical storm, or to at least let them unload the boat's own shipment of cocaine before it leaves, but he dismisses them - which leads to the boat flipping over and marooning them at sea, to be captured red-handed by the Coast Guard. Several police and prosecutors unwittingly lampshade the trope, remarking that they can't understand how someone as smart as Tarant could ever let himself come within a mile of the actual dirty business he has long been suspected of.
  • Sexy Figure Gesture: While Phil is chatting with some El Salvadoran gamblers, one asks him if he was playing roulette at the table "with the lady" (i.e. Tina). He makes "the international hand gesture for large bosoms" to illustrate his point.
  • Sexy Secretary: Dee Dee. It's the sole reason Bobby Kemp hired her, and the reason Lou Tarant stole her away.
  • Taking You with Me: Frank to Tark by grabbing him and throwing the two of them off the boat.
  • Those Two Guys: Ted and Johnny, the bandmates who don't have any particular distinguishing features. The only time we see them apart from each other is during the flashback to Johnny's trip to the emergency room.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: Fay the cocktail waitress is an undercover officer for the Coast Guard Investigative Service. Both the readers and the other characters find this out when the officer pulls a gun on the bad guys.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Joe arriving at a customer's house to find him fishing his belongings out of the pool which his wife keeps throwing back in. Joe greets them and says he can come back later, both of them greet him quite civilly and say it's no problem, then get back to yelling each other over the husband's infidelity.
  • Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: Well the book isn't exactly saccharine, but Tark is noticeably played far more seriously, with most of his scenes emphasizing his psychopathic nature, rather than funny things happening to him.
  • Villainous Breakdown:
    • Louis Tarant has an epic one when he realizes that Kemp is planning to steal from him. This culminates in him getting so mad that he orders his men start a small boat and race out at high speed in the middle of a tropical storm to the Extravaganza. This doesn't end well for him.
    • Tark has a more low-key one when he realizes he lost his inflatable boat with all the money he put on it. He panics and curses some, but quickly recovers. Unfortunately for him, this distracts him from Frank coming up from behind to strangle him...
  • Vomit Chain Reaction: Aboard Tark's boat, coming out of the Bahamas. Five men in a small cabin in rough seas take time out from pointing guns at each other to puke until they've covered the floor, the guns, and each other.
  • Was It Really Worth It?: Eddie Smith lost his job as a cruise ship officer after it came out that he had seduced a passenger's wife. He was condemned to working as a mate on a tourist fishing boat, reflecting ruefully:
    He had traded his career for a sexual experience that had lasted maybe eight minutes. And it hadn't even been particularly good sex.
  • Weak Boss, Strong Underlings: After Manny Arquero humiliates Bobby Kemp in front of his date (well, remains calm while Kemp looks like the whiny little bitch he is), Kemp buys the ship Manny works on and fires him. Unfortunately, Manny actually works for the mob and is very quickly rehired (and Kemp informed of how things work from then on).
    The first thing he did, as owner, was go to the ship and personally fire Manny Arquero, from behind two bodyguards. Arquero did not seem troubled at all.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The last three or four pages, covering over a dozen named characters. Lou Tarant went to prison, Wally's bandmates and Tina kept the money they found (the bandmates blew it all within two years; Tina opened a health food store), Phil died and Arnie remarried, Captain Eddie went into the pool cleaning business with Joe Sarmino the bartender, and Mara became an accountant and then a cocktail waitress again. Wally and Fay got married and had two kids together, with Wally as a stay-at-home dad.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Tark's way of dealing with his associates.