PLEASE NOTE - uploaded books out of order - "key" comes before "con" - enjoy
What blows up, must come down, or back - in Key West, that is, which is where Callahan's Con grabs the torch from the last tale and plunges readers forward a decade. The bar like a Greek chorus and its menagerie of happy-go-lucky, ever-trippy gentle hedonists are back with new faces, puns and shaggy-dog stories, partying like it's the end of the world (which it often nearly is in the Callahan tales).
At the end of Callahan's Key, barkeep Jake Stonebender and his motley crew had fled Long Island for Key West, set up a new watering hole and saved the universe from total annihilation. Ten years later, Jake Stonebender and the Callahan regulars are still bumping and imbibing the nights away at "The Place," until their worst nightmare shows up: a bureaucrat. Perfectly prim and armored in a designer suit, she proceeds to inform Jake that he's in Big Trouble because both he and his wife, Zoey, have violated Florida's home-schooling laws by failing to periodically submit their child to state competency tests. The 13-year-old daughter, Erin, is a teleporting, time-traveling supergenius, and revealing any of this would invite the scrutiny of the government, which would consequently land Jake's rather extraordinary gang in observation tanks or on autopsy tables.
Adding insult to imbroglio, an Italian racketeer nicknamed "Tony Donuts," with the build (and manners) of King Kong, shows up, determined to put the muscle on the Callahan bunch for his own sinister purposes. With the bureaucrat lurking, Jake consults a retired mafioso bigwig and comes to the conclusion that the only way out of the mess without getting messy himself is to pull the ultimate con. Thus, the bulk of the story concerns the Callahan group's labyrinthine escapades, musings, puns, freak shows, bonding sessions and attempts (once more) to prevent the universe from going poof.
A whimsical yarn with a big heart
What makes Callahan's Con one of the better Callahan novels is its focus on plot, however farcical the details, fantastic coincidences and unlikely resolutions. Robinson is the master of deadpan satire, able to perform the literary equivalent of making milk come out of his nose without so much as cracking a grin; Barry Gifford, Piers Anthony, Douglas Adams, Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard rolled into one goofy ball. Unfortunately, that superhuman ability to pull one gag after another on one's audience only works well hung from the latticework of a gripping story. Critics faulted the last book in the series for its tendency to ramble, at one point taking over a dozen chapters just to complete a road trip.
Fortunately, a straightforward plot is clearly in evidence here. Don't expect the clockwork complexity of Jonathan Nolan's Memento Mori or Robert Heinlein\'s "All You Zombies?", but perhaps more than any Callahan tale yet, this one's a page-turner. After we get the helpful first chapter recapitulation out of the way, the story takes off, even yielding some tense action scenes involving bicycles, mopeds and porno dives. All this is carefully interspersed with character exploration scenes, more puns than you can shake a stick at, and Jake's personal soliloquies on life, the universe and his glowing sex life. There are a few logic quirks, the selective avoidance of scientific explanations for certain events, and a final zero-sum game that rivals the Macintosh computer virus fiasco at the end of Independence Day for sheer inanity, but these slide off easily in the wake of the story's successes.
There's also a dark stripe running through the story's middle this time, culminating in a tragic event that Robinson treats with tenderness, professional melancholy and even a bit of lopsided humor. Only someone like Robinson could pull it off here, and it adds a pleasant layer of unsentimental warmth that is too often missing from much else written in the genre.
The Callahan tales are loosely connected, but Robinson writes them independently and with enough backstory to let each one stand as an individual, complete work. The series' namesake, for instance - Mike Callahan, time-traveling immortal - doesn't even make a cameo here. And that's just fine, because while there's undoubtedly more to come from the jocose mind of Mr. Robinson, the Jake Stonebender crew is just as engaging, and clearly here to stay. Fans or newcomers alike should consider this one for their summer reading lists.
You want to go where everybody knows your name, and that's the feeling you get when you pick up a Callahan book.
Reader Barrett Whitener, in this third Blackstone Audio Callahan audiobook does his familiar and fun vocal gymnastics routine - spouting off one liners in a dozen comic voices. Whitener, an Audie Award winner, is well matched with comic material - it really and truly is his forte.