Short Takes

Short Takes: Book reviews, in brief

February 16, 2013 

Fiction

The Riptide Ultra-Glide

Tim Dorsey, Morrow, 304 pages

While a mystery’s twists and turns will keep readers turning the pages until the wee hours, the characters are what make readers return, novel after novel.

Tim Dorsey has taken what is essentially a gimmick – a serial killer so enamored with Florida that he attacks those who don’t share his passion, or are just rude – and lathered it with broad, slapstick humor and made it work. Series “hero” Serge A. Storms never changes, never grows, but has amassed a solid following that will, no doubt, continue with “The Riptide Ultra-Glide,” the 16th in the series.

“The Riptide Ultra-Glide” is, like Dorsey’s previous Serge novels, simply fun. No social issues, no in-depth characters, no scintillating dialogue, yet Dorsey hooks the reader with his unabashed enthusiasm and devotion to all things Florida. Here, Serge wants to have his own reality show but has to deal with bullies, those who extort the elderly, pain clinics and Wisconsin residents Patrick and Barbara McDougall, who pick the wrong hotel. There’s also a war erupting between the Kentucky mafia and Mexican drug lords.

Sun Sentinel

Dancing to the Flute

Manisha Jolie Amin, Atria, 320 pages

A little boy appears in an Indian village, not remembering his name or where he was from. But he is charming, clever and musically gifted, and manages to make his way, thanks largely to the kindness of strangers.

His talent for playing the flute brings him to the notice of a wandering healer whose brother is a famed musician. That brother decides to take on the boy, known as Kalu, as a student. And over the years, both learn much.

“Dancing to the Flute” is Manisha Jolie Amin’s first novel and her American literary debut. It is an airy, free-floating tale, evoking the notes of a flute on the wind.

The author writes that each part of the novel is supposed to mimic an Indian melodic form known as the raag, starting slowly and gaining pace as it progresses. But the book doesn’t quite achieve lyrical status, although it tries very hard.

The boy at the center of the story is actually its least interesting character. It’s the others around him – the meek servant girl, the downtrodden buffalo handler and others – who give the book what little heft it has. There are two particularly powerful moments in the book, and Kalu is something of a side-note in each of them.

One of the downfalls of trying to make a book “lyrical” or “atmospheric” is that it’s easy to simultaneously make it too vague. It’s a bit unfair to the reader, who can struggle to try to understand what just happened in a paragraph or a chapter.

Sacrificing substance for style doesn’t always work. “Dancing to the Flute” falls short of achieving exceptional style, and it definitely could have used more substance. Associated Press

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