Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art, by Christopher Moore – I’m trying to catch up on the few books of Moore’s that I haven’t yet read. Apparently his original idea was to write a novel about the color blue, which then morphed into somewhat fantastic historical fiction about the Paris art scene in the late nineteenth century. The story begins with Vincent van Gogh, who allegedly shot himself and then walked several miles to seek medical attention, but the gun was never found. That part is true. The fantastic element added by the novel has it that he was actually murdered by a supernatural supplier of pigments, specifically the incredibly rare and valuable ultramarine blue. Made from lapis lazuli, this was the color in which the Virgin Mary’s cloak was traditionally painted. Investigations by the fictional baker turned painter Lucien Lessard and his real-life contemporaries eventually reveal that the Colorman, as he is called, is a man who has been around for thousands of years, supplying paint to artists and using their paintings to preserve his own life. His unwilling accomplice is a Muse who possesses various women to inspire artists. The book is printed in blue ink and augmented with actual paintings that intersect with the plot. It can be pretty complicated, but it’s fascinating how much real history Moore was able to fit into it while still using weird and comical elements.
Insane City, by Dave Barry – This novel incorporates a lot of elements of Barry’s comedic essays, including his probably only slightly exaggerated take on Miami and his observations about everyday life. The plot is largely a comedy of errors, with a strange mix of eccentric but generally believable characters getting into situations that intersect in bizarre ways. Seth Weinstein and Tina Clark, the latter the daughter of a billionaire tycoon, are going to Miami to get married. On the night of his bachelor party, however, Marty ends up losing the ring to an orangutan and harboring Haitian immigrants in his hotel suite. Like a lot of Barry’s work, it comes across as mostly intended for guys, but that’s not to say I don’t think women would enjoy it. One running gag I particularly liked is how Mike Clark, a member of the exclusive Group of Eleven, is obsessed with joining the even more exclusive Group of Six, only to eventually learn that all the latter group really talks about is the super-exclusive Group of Four.