The Key West Capers series, written by Laurence Shames, is a highly entertaining set of 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 this book): 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.
This is the fifth book in this series I've narrated, the previous ones being Key West Luck, Tropical Swap, Tropical Depression, and One Strange Date. Coincidentally, this is also the chronologically fifth book in the series, taking place after Tropical Depression, but that doesn't matter in terms of understanding or enjoying this audiobook. Virgin Heat is as much of a standalone novel as the Key West Capers series has.
Virgin Heat is the story of Angelina Amaro, innocent mafia princess who has come to a late, gradual understanding of how her father, mob capo Paul Amaro, earned his money. She always knew why he'd been in prison for nearly half her life, though: her secret boyfriend, wiseguy Sal Martucci, got busted by the FBI and ratted out Paul in exchange for entry into the witness protection program. Ten years later, her father returns home from prison. The family gets together to celebrate, including Paul's younger brother Louie, who lives a quiet, straight life as the owner of a plumbing supply store. While Louie is showing video highlights from his vacation in Key West, Angelina notices something familiar about the bartender making Louie's margarita: the distinctive hands of her old boyfriend Sal. In short order, she becomes obsessed with the idea that Sal is in Key West, and sneaks out of the house to take a plane down to Florida to find out for sure. On the flight from New York, she meets Michael, a gay man heading to Key West to look for romance while on a long vacation. When they get to their destination, they team up to track down Sal Martucci, now known as Ziggy Maxx, part-time bartender, part-time errand boy for a low-level hookers-and-gambling operation. While they search every bar in Key West looking at bartenders' hands, Uncle Louie figures out where Angelina is and heads to Key West to find her. With two Amaro family members having gone missing, the remaining members conduct a heavy-handed search operation until they discover the truth. Furious, Paul Amaro heads to Key West to find his daughter, and Sal/Ziggy finds his witness protection days coming to an end.
Virgin Heat is the first audiobook I've produced that is available in Audible's new CD-quality format, Audible Enhanced Audio. Now you can hear the true depth of the character voices, and the quality of the production process!
I narrated this book with a similar style to One Strange Date and Tropical Swap; modeled loosely on Chevy Chase from Fletch. Even though the series shares themes across all books, the style of each one is a little different. There is less humor in Virgin Heat than in the other Key West books; it's more of a serious romance, so the narration is a bit more straightforward.
I only have a few go-to female vocal styles, and unfortunately, they're shared with gay male vocal styles as well. This presented a challenge in making the voices for Angelina and Michael different enough that they can have long conversations without listeners losing context. Michael is lower, slower, often lightly but bitterly sarcastic, and has more dramatic flair. Angelina is higher-pitched, softer-toned, and her emotions are more transparent.
Ziggy's situation reminded me a lot of Goodfellas, especially since the boss he ratted out was named Paulie. So I used Ray Liotta as Henry Hill and Paul Sorvino as Paulie Cicero as vocal models for Ziggy and Paulie. I really like how they both turned out after all the development work I put into them. To me, one of the vocal hallmarks of a true mafia boss character is the lighting-fast transition from calm and calculated to rage and aggression. I implemented that element into both Paul's and Tommy's voices.
Speaking of Tommy Lucca, his physical description revolves around a nose that is so badly broken, it almost points sideways. Obviously that's going to affect his voice and breathing patterns, so I actually pinched my nose most of the way shut when doing Tommy's voice. The result was more James Gandolfini / Tony Soprano than I thought I could ever do. I usually like to save great voices like that for special occasions, but it fit Tommy Lucca too perfectly to try anything else.
Louie was the most difficult voice to develop for Virgin Heat. He has to feel small when surrounded by his perpetually dissatisfied wife and his physically imposing and emotionally overwhelming mafia brothers. When he finally starts to stand up for himself, or when he's defending Angelina, you can hear him stand a little taller and hold his chin a little higher, but his voice remains slight and soft. I ended up starting with the voice I developed for Old Man Warren in The Hero, modifying it with a slight New York accent, and making it sound a little more insecure.
Keith McCullough got my standard "by the book Lieutenant" voice, but this is the biggest role I've used that for thus far.
Manny Links reminded me a lot of Hal Holbrook, and since I'd already developed a soundalike for that for Forry Brown Deathwish World, I decided to reuse it.
Carmen Salazar = Peter Lorre. /micdrop
Carlos Mendes is a soft-spoken 45-ish Cuban businessman. For reasons unknown to me, the voice that came to mind was Ricardo Montalban circa 1975.
Terry Sykes is a minor character with a specific description and a lot of interesting dialogue, so I decided that a younger Sam Elliott would be a good vocal model. I'd probably be able to do a perfect Sam Elliott soundalike if I could get my voice to go deeper.
Virgin Heat is the most serious romance of the Key West Capers books that I've narrated, forgoing much of the familiar situational comedy in favor of concentrating on the outsized impact that each character's imagination has on his or her most important relationships. Its story, setting, and characters nostalgically reflect the context in which it was written: mid-1990s Key West. At that time, the mafia was in a steep decline after a major effort from the FBI; Key West was a haven for gay men who spent most of their time closeted to avoid ostracism and hate; and Castro still had firm control over a communist Cuba. Today, the story still entertains, its characters still engage, its message still has impact, and its themes are still completely valid despite the vast changes in cultural context. In any era, time amplifies the power of unsaid words and unexpressed emotions; when fantasy meets reality, can fantasy ever win?