Cover image for The naked detective : a novel
The naked detective : a novel
Shames, Laurence.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Villard, [2000]

Physical Description:
225 pages ; 25 cm
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"I never meant to be a private eye." Thus are we introduced to Pete Amsterdam, the world's most reluctant sleuth and the improbable but totally engaging protagonist of this wry and irresistible novel. Naked in his hot tub, Pete is idly reviewing his morning tennis game when trouble arrives in the form of the inevitable blonde. This being Key West, the blonde is not quite what she seems, and it's useless to explain to her that he's not a real detective--that, in fact, he got his P.I. license strictly as a tax dodge, a way to pretend his new wine cellar is an "office." She's got troubles of her own--big troubles that are utterly foreign to the cozy little paradise Pete has crafted for himself. Why, then, does the unwilling gumshoe allow himself to be squeezed ever tighter against Key West's humid underbelly--involved with the likes of local bully Lefty Ortega, his nympho daughter, and the sleazeball who controls the island's gambling boats? And why does he feel that his life is being taken over by the demands and traditions of the detective story? Will Pete blunder his way through to solving the crime? Will he penetrate the leotard of the lissome yoga teacher who is his only ally? The answers will be found in these fast-moving and hilarious pages, where the hard-boiled flirts with the postmodern. Think of this novel as Raymond Chandler meets Woody Allen meets the Coen brothers, and as a romp that somehow breaks through to serious consideration of the themes of community and responsibility, and the notion that maybe all of us could be heroes--even if mostly in spite of ourselves.

Author Notes

Laurence Shames was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1951, and graduated summa cum laude from NYU, in 1972. He became a journalist, and was published in magazines such as Playboy, Outside, Saturday Review, and Vanity Fair. In 1982, he was named Ethics columnist of Esquire, and also made a contributing editor.

In 1991, Shames co- wrote a national non-fiction best-seller on the Mafia called Boss of Bosses, with two FBI agents. This success afforded him the opportunity to write fiction full-time, and he has since written ten Key West comic thrillers. He won the CWA Last Laugh Dagger Award for the funniest crime novel of 1995 with Sunburn.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

"I never meant to be a private eye. The whole thing . . . was my accountant's idea." Here's a new twist on the age-old dilemma of how to get an amateur sleuth into the game. Shames, who writes some of the most entertaining comic mysteries in the genre, gives us reluctant PI Pete Amsterdam, a retiree in Key West who pretends he's gone into the detective business in order to deduct the cost of his new wine cellar. The tiny ad in the Yellow Pages was only intended to legitimize the scam, but unfortunately, it brings Pete a client, a cross-dressing bartender on the run from the Mob. Pete refuses to take the case, but when the bartender is killed, and his friend, a stunning yoga teacher, asks Pete to find out what happened, well . . . a sleuth is born. The resultant adventures bring Pete out of his midlife funk and into the arms of the yoga teacher, but not before we've chuckled our way through a couple of hours of delightful hijinks, laid-back Key West style. Reading Shames is just plain fun. --Bill Ott

Publisher's Weekly Review

Shames's eighth Key West novel (after Welcome to Paradise) has its moments of charm and interest, especially when narrator Pete Amsterdam, debuting here, describes the particular pleasures of the setting: "Key West is a place to withdraw to, a retreat without apology or shame. And you learn things from the place you live. One of the things Key West teaches is that disappointment and contentment can go together more easily than you would probably imagine." Pete has learned this lesson well, as a man both disappointed (by his lack of success, especially with women) and contented (with his cozy house and the freedom to indulge his three main interests--wine, music and tennis--without actually working). Unfortunately, his accountant has talked Pete into getting a PI's license for tax reasons, and that's where the trouble begins--for Pete as well as for the novel. Shames does provide a few original touches--for example, the well-built blonde who arrives early on to hire Peter (and catches him naked in the hot tub) and who turns out to be a cross-dressing man. But the plot quickly bogs down into a routine search for two missing mail pouches buried on a spit of sand, sought after by not only Pete and his soon-to-be-late client but also by the usual assortment of local thugs and corrupt cops. Too bad. Amsterdam and his main squeeze, a lithe yoga instructor named Maggie, deserve better next time out. Author tour. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Shames uses Key West, FL (the place he calls home), as the setting for this entertaining crime novel. The island "paradise" is an integral part of his wacky story about the clash of newly arrived opportunists with the established "conch" culture. Strategically placed between these two forces are the police and Pete Amsterdam, a private investigator in name whose only transportation is a 1950s bicycle. Amsterdam's observations on Key West make this work part travelog, part adventure, and a lot of fun. Include an ethereal yet highly attractive female yogi instructor, a cross-dressing accountant, an obsessive tennis junkie, and the local mobster's oversexed daughter, and the mix is truly memorable. Narrator Ron McLarty is a master of multiple voices and provides an engaging cadence. Very highly recommended. Ray Vignovich, West Des Moines P.L., IA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One I never meant to be a private eye. The whole thing, in fact, was my accountant's idea. A tax dodge. Half a joke. A few years ago I made some money. Made it the modern American way: by sheer dumb luck, doing work I hated, on a silly product that only made life more trivial and more annoying. I took the dough-not a lot of dough, but enough to live on for the rest of my life if I wasn't an asshole about it-and moved full-time to Key West. I'd had a funky little house there for years. Wood frame, shady porch, tiny pool that took up most of a backyard choked with thatch and bougainvillea. Vacation house. Daydreaming about that place, the time I'd eventually spend there, got me through a lot of crappy afternoons in my stupid office up in Jersey. Now I wanted to really make it home. So I told my accountant to free up some cash. "I'm renovating. Building an addition." "You're putting in an office," he informed me. "Office? Benny, I'm retired." "Bullshit you're retired. What are you, forty-six?" "Forty-seven." "Forty-seven you don't retire. Forty-seven you have a crisis and change careers." "There's no crisis, Benny. I'm putting in wine storage, a music room, and a hot tub." He raised his hands to fend off the information. "You never told me that," he said. "It's an office and it'll save you thousands. Tens of thousands. Plus your car becomes deductible." I made the mistake of keeping silent for a moment. Call me cheap. I shouldn't have even thought about it, but the idea of saving tens of thousands made me pause. "Become a realtor," Benny suggested. "Everyone down there becomes a realtor, right?" I'd dealt with realtors in my life. "I'd rather shoot myself," I said. "Shoot yourself," he muttered, then started free-associating. "Tough guy. Humphrey Bogart. Hey, call yourself a private eye." "Don't be ridiculous." He quickly fell in love with his idea. "Ya know," he said, "there's a lot of advantages. Private corporation. One employee: you. You get a gun-." "Benny, cut it out." "-get a license-" "How you get a license?" "Florida?" he said. "Probably swear you haven't murdered anybody in the last sixty, ninety days." "Benny, I don't wanna be a private eye." He paused, blinked, and looked somewhat surprised. "Schmuck! Did I say you have to be a private eye? I said we're calling you a private eye. You'll get some business cards, put a listing in the phone book-" "Commit fraud-" "What fraud? You're committing failure. Look, the government allows three years' worth of losses. By then we've depreciated the work on the house, the car lease has expired-" Well, the whole thing was preposterous-and I guess I kind of like preposterous. Having an amusing thing to say at parties, occasionally in bars. Something incongruous and intriguing. So on my tax returns, at least, I became a private eye. Pete Amsterdam, sole proprietor, doing business as Southernmost Detection, Inc. That was two and a half years ago. I have a license somewhere in a drawer, and a gun I've never fired rusting in a wall safe. Until very recently, thank God, I hadn't had a single client. Three, four times a year someone calls me up, usually on some sordid and depressing matrimonial thing. I lie and say I'm too busy; for some reason the potential client apologizes and quickly gets off the phone, like I'll charge him for my precious time. My only worry has been that the IRS might come snooping around to see if I was legit. This has been a sporadic but uncomfortable concern, since, for me, feeling legit has never come that easy anyway. But in the meantime the house improvements came out beautiful, suited me to a T. I'm divorced. I live alone. I guess I'm a little eccentric. Mainly it's that I don't pretend to care about the things that most people pretend to care about. The news. What's on television. The outside world. I have a small, tight core of things that still can hold my interest; I arrange my life as simply and neatly as I can around those things, and the rest just sort of passes me right by. I like wine. I like music. I like tennis. After that the list grows pretty short. Must sound meager to people who live in places where everyone is busy and engaged and avidly discusses what's in the theaters or the paper. But Key West isn't like that. Key West is a place to withdraw to, a retreat without apology or shame. And you learn things from the place you live. One of the things Key West teaches is that disappointment and contentment can go together more easily than you would probably imagine. So I've been more or less content down here. Tan, reasonably fit, generally unbothered. I do what I want and, better still, I don't do what I don't want. Which includes being a private eye. In fact, two and a half years into this fraud of a vocation, I'd practically forgotten I was listed in the phone book. Or I had until a few weeks ago, when the client I'd been dimly dreading came marching into my unlocked house, stormed past the wine room and through the music room, out the back door and around the little pool, to catch me naked in the hot tub and to turn my whole life upside down. Excerpted from The Naked Detective by Laurence Shames All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.