Friday, January 06, 2006

Book review: Skinny Dip

Skinny Dip - Carl Hiaasen

I read this yesterday evening (after finishing a 1969 Elizabeth Peters mystery) and stayed up till after 1am this morning to finish it. Not that I was really aware of the time, because it was a cracking read. The plot certainly isn't original, being a virtual re-hash of Hiaasen's last three books. You can tick off the standard elements: feisty, pretty, young-ish woman with scumbag husband, ex-husband, ex-boyfriend (delete as applicable); older retired cop (Hiaasen's alter ego, probably); humane and decent cop; rich guy with an interest in screwing the Everglades; bizarre supporting characters. Yes, they're all here. But somehow, such is the pace and verve of the writing, that you forget that you've met Joey and Mike before in different guises, and that the story is yet again about the environmental destruction of Florida. Not that I'd bemoan the fact that Hiaasen is evidently passionately concerned about his local environment and wants to draw attention to its destruction, and the vested interests in government which conspire to do nothing about it.

The opening scene, when Joey is thrown off a cruise ship by her horrible husband, Chaz, is superb - you start rooting for her immediately. But it's the more minor characters who are memorable (like Janet Evanovich's, who also writes comic crime novels, though hers are laregly set in New Jersey). Tool, the bear-like "bodyguard" who is convincingly described and whose change of heart is wonderful; Maureen, the eighty-something cancer patient who starts Tool's refomation; Medea, the hippie lover of Chaz who proves that she won't stand for any crap; Corbett Wheeler, Joey's sheep farmer brother; and the Captain, one-eyed mad hermit of the Everglades, who incidentally provides the creepy, Handful of Dust ending and Chaz's just deserts. There are some great comic scenes, particularly with Rolvaag's encounters with his mad, dog-loving neighbours (he owns two pythons of whom the residents of his building are terrified), and Chaz's attempts to get laid after Joey's "death".

One of the great things about Hiaasen's books, and Skinny Dip is no exception, is the satisfying way in which the rotten characters meet their come-uppance. He really makes the punishment fit the crime. Lives unravel, love is found, money changes hands, and the reader is entertained all the way. So why fix it if it ain't broken?



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