Beautiful Arch

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By James Aylott

IR Rating:
James Aylott's TALES OF WHISKEY TANGO FROM MISERY TOWERS, a Carl Hiaasen-style novel, is a masterful blend of comic and tragic.
IR Approved
A satirical novel exploring the interconnected lives of residents of a failing St. Louis apartment building.

James Aylott’s debut novel, Tales from The Beach House, was a caboodle of odd and memorable characters set in South Florida. Geographically and stylistically, it was a descendent of Carl Hiaasen’s and Tim Dorsey’s satires. His new novel, TALES OF WHISKEY TANGO FROM MISERY TOWERS, takes that same sensibility and transfers it twelve hundred miles northwest, to St. Louis, Missouri. One-by-one, we meet his eccentric dramatis personae: Nick Pipeman, a hot-shot realtor with a panty-sniffing fetish; a once-great realtor named Mike Love who has fallen on hard times; Mike’s boss and landlord, Darris; Mike’s trapeze artist girlfriend, Gloria; a past-her-prime stripper who goes by Butterfly and can’t let go of the spotlight; and Colton Chesterfield III, who is given one of the most memorable entrances in all of literature by waking up inside a coffin. What connects these individuals is Missouri Towers, a.k.a. “Misery Towers,” which used to be the ritziest apartment building in town but now is crumbling and squalid. Mike is the novel’s emotional center, caught between his own ambitions and Gloria’s desire for stability. When a funeral director who lost a fortune to a Ponzi scheme kidnaps that scheme’s perpetrator, the fallout is by turns action-packed and introspective.

And funny, starting with the characters’ names (there is also Julie Titsworth, yet another realtor who “had about as much maternal warmth as Hillary Clinton”). Another hallmark of good crime fiction is detail, at which the author—a former tabloid photography editor—excels. Take this recitation of St. Louis delicacies that Gloria, a Kansas transplant, has grown to enjoy: “toasted ravioli, gooey butter cake, and pizza made with cheese that easily gets stuck in your teeth.”

Though Aylott occasionally overdoes the trivia (for readers curious about how the Gateway Arch was constructed, there are History Channel documentaries), his St. Louis is, in some ways, the book’s main character—as crucial to his madcap tale as Gotham City is to Batman. When an old girlfriend, Lizzy, asks Mike about Gloria, he replies, “We met in our apartment building during a tornado. Very St. Louis thing to do.”

The book has plenty of dark humor, but it isn’t all laughs. For instance, Reginald, the kidnapping Ponzi scheme victim, inspires genuine pathos and shows a depth sometimes lacking in Hiaasen’s and Dorsey’s novels, which have a streak of the absurdist. Readers looking for a rollicking yet sobering story with a strong sense of place could scarcely do better than this Midwestern send-up.

James Aylott’s TALES OF WHISKEY TANGO FROM MISERY TOWERS, a Carl Hiaasen-style novel, is a masterful blend of comic and tragic.

~Anthony Aycock for IndieReader

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