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: 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.
Key West Luck is the story of young Phoebe Goodyear, recently released from prison for being a passive accessory to her toxic ex-boyfriend's drug dealing, and ready for a fresh start in Key West. The plan? To sell sno-cones on the beach. She spends the last of her cash reserves on a downpayment for a sno-cone truck. In the process of getting it ready for business, Phoebe meets Nicky Angelo, formerly an associate of a Philadelphia mob enforcer, but now a starving tavern musician in his mid-20s. When Phoebe's sno-cone truck is in danger of being repossessed by a seedy con-man, Nicky and his stoner roommate Ozzie quickly get themselves into trouble trying to get it back. Just when they think that their luck can't get any worse, they attract the attention of two Miami crime bosses -- up-and-coming Luis Benavides and declining Charlie Ponte.
I absolutely love Key West, so on one level this was fun for me to read. Beyond that, though, the story is fantastically written and the characters are just extraordinary enough to be fascinating and entertaining without being too caricatured. Every character in every story should be loud, but not shouting; Key West Luck is an excellent example of that.
The third-person omniscient narrative is packed with subtle, detail-oriented comedy that required me to develop a new style based on Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman voiceover narration in American Psycho. I'd tried it for a few auditions in the past, but never had the chance to use for a big project until Key West Luck. Essentially it makes the assumption that whomever is listening is unconditionally trusted to accept and agree with everything the narrator thinks and feels, and is therefore being given extraordinary insight into details that would otherwise be secret.
Originally I tried a kind of New York "tough guy" voice for Nicky, but that didn't work out because while he may have briefly been a mob enforcer, that wasn't who he really was inside. I mean, we've all taken really crappy jobs just for the money, quit because we couldn't stand it anymore, and regretted the whole experience, right? Anyway, I used the same prototypical "young, impetuous hero" voice that I originally developed for Arthur in The Hero, and altered slightly for Franklin Pinnell in Deathwish World.
Phoebe has a tough emotional shell that protects her from getting involved in the same situations that landed her in prison. When her armor is really engaged, she slips into an even, uninflected monotone. Since English is a stress-timed language, this tone makes it impossible for anyone to accuse her of having any particular emotion in the moment. It's a hard tone to achieve; it took some practice. Basically I reused the voice I developed for Lee Garrett in Deathwish World; articulate, strong, but still musical enough to communicate femininity (except of course when she's in that "transmit data only" mode).
Ozzie Kimmell's unwavering dedication to honest communication without the burden of tact or diplomacy could, I felt, only be truly expressed through a voice modeled after Steve Buscemi.
Teddy Meara is a red-faced, overstuffed, alcoholic, small-time con-man from South Boston. He only has three modes to his personality: exaggerated bragging, whining about unmet expectations, and greedily setting up a con in order to provide fuel for the first two personality modes. I didn't have a model for him. All I did was practice the accent a little, and imagine it emanating from a grotesque human-pig hybrid.
Pineapple's shy, slow-paced voice could have gone in two directions: the kind and unassuming beach hippie ala Owen Wilson, or the unintentionally humorous deadpan stoner ala Steven Wright. I was leaning toward Steven Wright until I looked more deeply at Pineapple's friend and roommate Fred, an easily-angered, hard-drinking, good-intentioned guy who is often sarcastic. If Pineapple were the un-self-aware clown, then Fred would have to be the straight man. While that would have been the overall funnier choice for Pineapple, it made Fred into too much of a jerk. I thought it was a better big-picture decision to make Fred the unwitting clown instead, since his outbursts aren't violent or harmful. Fred's voice is based on the archetypal simmering rage-fiend whom everyone is required by Internet law to be Facebook friends with, albeit unsubscribed from their feed. You know the one (and if you don't, then you are the one).
Gus Delios: John Belushi. /micdrop
I tried four different voices for Luis Benavides before I landed on one that worked. The first two were variations on a fast-paced "psycho Antonio Banderas" theme, and they were hilarious when combined with Benavides' articulate arrogance and general disdain for anyone not named Luis Benavides. However, he is the book's arch-villain, and though he is Cuban in origin, it felt a bit too much like 20th-century media role discrimination to give him a Cuban accent. Next, I tried one based on Christian Slater and Jack Nicholson, and again it was hilarious because it was so easy to add false sincerity to his condescending dialogue. The problem there was that it was a much slower-paced voice, and ended up being too close in pitch and cadence to a character that Benavides has a lot of dialogue with: Charlie Ponte. And there was no way I was changing Charlie Ponte's awesome voice. In the end, I used a stock "arrogant, devilish villain" voice that I've used in just about all of my audiobooks.
Charlie Ponte is a 60-ish Miami gangster. He's at that age when a mafioso still has the fiery rage of his youth, but most of the time can hold it back in order to make smart business decisions. For his voice, I used one that I've been wanting to use for a long time: a lightweight version of Angel from The Hero. While Angel was inspired by Lee Van Cleef, Charlie Ponte's pacing and slightly less raspy voice was modeled on the great VO master Tom Spackman.
Bert "The Shirt" D'Ambrosia is the secondary character at the heart of the entire Key West Capers series, so the voice has to really work. He's in his late 80s, 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.
In some parts of the story, I had to do very slight pitch changes (a quarter to a half step) during post-processing in order to draw a better distinction among multiple characters in a conversation. Phoebe had to go up in pitch a couple of times, Nicky down, and I lowered most of Luis Benavides' dialogue by a half step because I thought his dramatic inflection was a little too close to Ozzie's, and I didn't want listeners to mistake one for the other.
I also used the Telephone effect to indicate dialogue on the other side of a phone conversation. This was tricky because the narrative is third-person omniscient, so the perspective can change between characters at any time. For instance, in one scene Bert and Charlie are talking to each other on the phone. When the narrative describes Bert's environment, expression, thoughts, or actions, I used the effect on Charlie's dialogue. When the perspective switched to Charlie, I used the effect on Bert's voice. This is something that occurs in movies very often when both sides of a phone conversation are filmed in two scenes with cuts back and forth. In an audiobook, I feel it's important to establish some auditory context for phone conversations so that it's easier to set the scene and imagine the action.
Key West Luck is by far the most universally entertaining audiobook I've produced as of this writing. There's plenty of action, comedy, mystery, and even some romance. You'll like it. And if you don't, Bert'll buy you a drink and maybe convince -- or shall I say, persuade -- you to like it.