one will ever accuse Carl Hiaasen of being a subtle
novelist. He paints his satires with broad, broad
strokes. But no one will accuse him of being boring
or slow, either.
his eleventh novel (including the young-readers-targeted
Hoot), is true to form: fast, funny and
It opens with
Joey Perrone, a beautiful, blond, laid-back, nature-loving
heiress worth millions, being thrown off the deck
of a cruise ship by her sex-obsessed, nature-hating
husband, Chaz. The Perrones had taken the cruise
to celebrate their second wedding anniversary, but
Chaz clearly would like to find a way out.
for him, he has forgotten that Joey had been co-captain
of her college swim team, and she recovers quickly
enough to knife headfirst into the water and survive
a fall that would have killed most unwanted spouses
on impact. Even with her diving and swimming skills,
though, she can’t swim all the way to the
Florida coast in the dark, choppy Atlantic, and
for at least a few pages, she seems doomed to play
a brief role as shark bait.
for Chaz, she manages to latch onto a passing bale
of Jamaican marijuana before passing out, and she
is soon fished out of the drink by a semi-hermit
who had once been an investigator before being forced
into retirement by a nasty shoot-out with a corrupt
Florida judge. Once she’s recovered, Joey
convinces the retired cop to delay calling the police
until she has time to cook up a funny if vengeful
comeuppance for Chaz.
With a guy like
Chaz, of course, it’s easy to build a revenge
plot that’s guaranteed to drive him into the
arms of the closest policeman—or psychiatrist.
insects, snakes and discolored water, Chaz is a
marine biologist paid to collect water samples that
measure the impact pesticides and fertilizers are
having on the Everglades. Naturally, he hates his
job, but he appreciates the unusually large sums
of money he gets from a millionaire-redneck named
Red Hammernut to insure that the readings don’t
reveal the levels of toxic chemicals Red’s
farms are dumping into the Everglades.
ENTER the good-hearted
liberal message, STAGE LEFT.
As Hiaasen says
in the standard disclaimer that opens works of fiction,
“The events described are mostly imaginary,
except for the destruction of the Florida Everglades
and the $8 billion effort to save what remains.”
Be forewarned: if you happen to be a land developer
or tend to vote for anything that further endangers
an endangered species, Skinny Dip is probably
not your kind of comedy.
The rest of us
will find it hilarious.
It would be a
crime in itself to reveal Skinny Dip’s
plot machinations; let it merely be said that they
include a large, hairy, brutally violent but surprisingly
sentimental bodyguard / hit man named Tool and a
swamp hermit whose hallucinations include believing
that everyone he sees is connected to the Nixon
plot has enough plot twists to keep its readers
awake and guessing their way through what could
otherwise feel like a familiar ride, and Hiaasen’s
over-the-top comedy is creative in its extremes.
An example: Joey’s parents, the Wheelers,
owned a casino resort in Nevada, and one of its
draws was a dancing-bear act run “by a semi-retired
dominatrix who billed herself as Ursa Major.”
When one of the star performers got an impacted
bicuspid, Joey’s parents chartered a jet and
flew the bear to a periodontic veterinarian at Lake
On the return
flight something went sour and the plane nosedived
into the Cortez Mountains. Federal investigators
later determined that, for reasons unknown, the
convalescing bear had been seated in the co-pilot’s
position at the time of the crash. Film recovered
from a 35-mm camera owned by the Wheelers revealed
several snapshots of Boris squeezed upright behind
the steering yoke. In one frame, Ursa Major was
curled laughingly on the beast’s lap, tipping
a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream to its
unfurled lips. In a subsequent photo, Boris had
been posed in headphones and tinted aviator glasses.
between the Gulfstream and control towers en route
confirmed a highly festive, and possibly distracting,
atmosphere aboard the Wheelers’ jet. Why
it had suddenly gone down remained a mystery,
though Ursa’s assistant surmised that the
bear’s sunny humor had evaporated dramatically
once the Xylocaine wore off. During the aircraft’s
fatal corkscrew plummet, controllers attempting
to radio the cockpit received only bestial snorts
and grunts in reply.
has its moments of violence, but they’re mild
indeed compared to Hiaasen’s Sick Puppy,
for example. And with rare exceptions, the violence
is directed at the thuggish bad guys who, in a comedy
like Hiaasen’s, appear on the page with large
bull’s-eyes painted on their greedy backs.
Like I said, Hiaasen
isn’t the subtlest knife in the drawer. But
he’s awfully good at the broad, funny stuff.