The Key West Capers series, written by Laurence Shames, is a highly entertaining set of romantic crime caper stories set in modern-day Key West, Florida. They are a mix of comedy, crime drama, thriller, and romance; there's something for everyone. You don't have to read any other books in the series to enjoy this one. Each book is a standalone story with the same setting and one common character throughout (except for book 5, Virgin Heat): elderly, friendly, sociable, retired crime boss Bert "The Shirt" D'Ambrosia. Surviving characters occasionally do come back in other books; when they do, their context is quickly established through comedic summary.
One Strange Date is the 12th book in the Key West Capers series, but only the fourth that I've narrated, after Key West Luck, Tropical Swap, and Tropical Depression. Chronologically, it takes place a year or two after Key West Luck, but you don't have to read it to understand and enjoy One Strange Date.
This is a unique book in the series, in that it takes place within one 24-hour period, though through narrative and character dialogue, context and backstories are quickly established for the important characters. It is also deeper than most of the previous books -- it's more of a mystery -- asking readers/listeners to form their own questions and answers about the true intentions of the main characters.
The central relationship in the story is between awkward and mildly misanthropic college student Renita Daughtry and her Uncle Ralphie, who works for the Key West Mosquito Control Board. While away at college in Tallahassee, Renita develops an obsession for studying criminal psychology. Uncle Ralphie thinks this is strange, but doesn't judge her for it. During one of their phone conversations, though, Renita reveals that she's set up an online dating profile, and will be travelling several hours to Naples to meet an interesting, cultured, wealthy young man whom she met online. In Ralphie's mind, that's even weirder, because she rarely dated anyone when she was home in Key West or while she was at college in Tallahassee.
Her dating profile, filled with vague details that indicate she might have a lot of money and political influence in Key West, has not actually attracted the attention of a wealthy playboy, but a masterful con man named Justin. Or Richie. Or Gregory. Who knows what his real name is? The con man's good-hearted twin brother does, along with all the details of his history of scams and thefts. Knowing his evil twin is heading to Key West to escape the mafia wiseguy that he conned out of a lot of money and a fancy car, Ned Preston drives from New York to Key West, hoping to find his brother before the hit men do. But when Ned is identified as the con man's brother, he gets beat up on the beach by some enforcers, right in front of an old man trying peacefully to watch the sunset: Bert The Shirt. Bert asks him his story, and together they plot a way to find Ned's missing brother.
Meanwhile, when Uncle Ralphie suddenly can't reach his niece by phone, he becomes suspicious of her dating life, and her plans to drive the length of the Gulf coast from Tallahassee to Naples to meet a man she only knew from a dating site. Worried for her safety, he uses his position in local government to enlist the reluctant help of retired, self-deprecating Key West private detective Pete Amsterdam to help find her.
So Renita is missing, and Justin/Richie/Gregory is missing, and the mob, the police, and motivated relatives and friends are trying to find them.
The narration style is much like Key West Luck, modeled after Christian Bale's voiceover narration from American Psycho. I felt that it fit really well with the psychologically ambiguous theme of "whom to believe, and when to believe them" that is the backbone of One Strange Date.
Bert "The Shirt" D'Ambrosia is the secondary character at the heart of the Key West Capers series, so the voice has to really work. He's in his early 90s, and has been long retired from northeastern old-school mafia life. Mostly he's calm and slow, but there's still a tiny spark of anger that arcs whenever something unjust or unfair happens. As models, I used two men whose acting careers are dominated by these kinds of roles: Lawrence Tierney and Steven Van Zandt.
I based Renita's voice on Kate Beckinsale in Love & Friendship. Not the accent, of course, but more the physicality of how she speaks. Every line of dialogue ends with a silent little gasp and parted lips, as though she intends to say something more, but won't. It's provocative, certainly; it teaches everyone around her to wait a little longer after she speaks before they respond. It leaves people hanging on her every word. Renita is fascinated by things that would frighten most other people. But is that merely intense curiosity, or is it something darker?
The con man has two different voices: one as Justin, which was modeled after a younger and more versatile Jack Nicholson. The other is Richie, which is close to my resonated natural speaking voice. Ned, as his twin brother, has a similar voice, but he's a little more worried and manic than Richie. Richie feels he can handle anything and isn't too worried about impending doom; Ned is convinced he's finally in over his head, and doesn't want his brother to die. The irony of Richie is that his actual true life story is more bizarre than the characters he invents for his cons.
Pete Amsterdam was difficult to develop. I wanted to do something like Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye, but I couldn't make that voice subdued enough. Instead, I altered a Hal Holbrook-modeled voice that I developed for Deathwish World, and toned it down a bit.
Uncle Ralphie, in my mind, is John Goodman. Unfortunately I can't get my voice to be that deep and resonant, so I settled on making it rough and emotional.
Marco, the New York wiseguy, was a slightly younger and more impulsive version of the voice I developed for Frankie Fortune in Tropical Swap. He responds more quickly than most of the people he's talking to -- he just says the first reactionary thing that comes to mind, even when it's obvious that someone is carefully plotting against him.
The two thugs, Bats and Soup, are kind of stock mob enforcer characters. I had Tony Sirico in mind as Bats, and I reused the Bruno voice (from Tropical Depression) for Soup.
One Strange Date is a fantastic story in many ways: It's a great romance, a great adventure, a great mystery, and it has all the right characters to make it work.