One of the heroes of Christopher Moore's book "The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove" (Spike, $23) is named Steve. Steve thinks he's quite the stud muffin. Steve is looking for a woman. Frankly, though, Steve's pickup lines are weak.
Steve is also several million years old and roughly the size of a mobile home. Steve has gills. Steve eats people.
Steve is, in fact, the book's title character -- the lust lizard -- and probably the book's most normal character.
To repeat -- the book's most normal character is a double-wide sized reptile in the mood for some lovin' and older than Strom Thurmond. Named Steve.
Clearly, the book is odd.
Odd and funny. Very funny.
Here's a rundown on the oddity. Pine Cove, Calif., is a small, sleepy Pacific coast town. One fateful day, four events take place: A woman is found dead, an apparent suicide victim. The local shrink secretly decides to replace everyone's medication with placebos. An old blues singer takes up residence at the local bar. And Steve rolls out of the ocean, looking for food and ... well, you know.
Steve, who can send a subliminal signal to vulnerable or "depressed" lifeforms, triggers a strange reaction in the recently de-medicated citizens of Pine Cove. They are either drawn to Steve or drawn to each other. Pine Cove becomes a very friendly place.
Constable Theo Crowe, who would like nothing more than to tend to his marijuana garden and partake in the crops, must sort out what really happened to the dead woman and why everyone else is acting so dang loopy.
There are several love stories and a meth lab in there somewhere, but explaining that would spoil all the fun.
Moore has the Carl Hiassen gift of creating believability in the absurd. The characters are so likable and the pacing so quick and matter-of-fact that it seems perfectly logical for a sea monster to create a meltdown among small-town residents who didn't seem all that normal to begin with.
It's absurdist humor -- you know you don't really believe it, but you're having too much fun to care. Moore doles out the foreshadowing with generosity, so the "plot twists" never really shock or amaze. Every turn serves not to surprise, but to take the story deeper into the jungle of weirdness.
Everything from the wildly speeding plot to the oddball characters aims at the same goal -- getting a chuckle. It's humor in the name of oddity. The goal is met.
-- Erik Petersen's phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.