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Crescent Blues Book ViewsImage:three and a half moon gifTropical Press (Trade Paperback), ISBN 0966617371
First came Anita Bryant. Then O.J. Simpson happened. Now Florida's orange juice industry faces another bout of bad press -- however fictitious -- in Steve Glassman's The Near Death Experiment. A science professor fired from a "Seven Sisters clone" Orlando college, Rupert J. "Bru" Bruton finds himself working for orange juice tycoon Billy Goins. A millionaire so stingy that he steals Bru's sandwich right off the plate, including the half Bru already bit into, Goins wants Bru to dispel the rumors linking a chemical in Goins's plastic orange juice containers to what might be a fatal epidemic called KiDS. Things get scary enough to force one character to resort to fresh-squeezed only.

Book: Steve Glassman, the near death experimentOrange juice isn't the only target in this frenetic mystery. Glassman lambastes academics, lawyers, sex-crazed women, violence-inebriated lawmen and daughters whose disloyalty proves sharper than any Florida rattlesnake's tooth. On the other side, most of the leather-clad, beer-bellied bikers encountered by Bru cleave to some kind of moral code. This says more about them than it does about the vigilante sheriff who runs Bru's Central Florida county -- a woman who'll tolerate any amount of violent rule-breaking and citizen-battering, provided it rids her streets of what she terms "scum." The novel opens during Bike Week at Daytona Beach, but even without an influx of reprobates who get their kicks by touching live wires to their tongues, scum abounds in the least likely places.

The surprising reassignment of decency provides one of the book's most interesting features. The Near Death Experiment certainly pays homage to the rock hard-boiled detective novel, but it does more than follow a blueprint. Glassman tosses into the mix a startling life-after-death sequence and a series of bizarrely hot-and-bothered women (a villainous, nymphomaniac daughter and her equally raunchy daughter, plus a gun-toting Texan named Melba who gets so excited about chasing clues she must wash her underwear in Bru's sink). And of course, we learn plenty about the orange juice industry, from grove-obliterating diseases and behind-the-scenes virus machinations by juice magnates to that stuff you blithely pour into your glass every morning up in Buffalo, N.Y.

Despite some stereotypic villains and phrases that veer closer to cliché than they ought, Glassman gives his readers a likeable, flawed guide to take us through this story -- and along the way puts a few gemlike observations in Bru's mouth. For example, Bru ascribes good bowel function to anyone who resembles a laxative ad model and talks about a dying junkie-biker who became "moderately famous for his crooked erection." Not to mention two "feral monk parrots" who screech on a power line while "playing grabass with each other." Like the rest of the book, even the scenery in Glassman's Florida paradise bites.

Amy S. Gottfried

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