Naked Came the Manatee, Carl Hiaasen editor

Cover ImageFinished 1-17-09, rating 2.5/5, fiction, pub. 1996

This novel is a serial collaborataion of 13 of South Florida’s best writers and was originally written for The Miami Herald’s Tropic magazine.  David Barry writes the first chapter, passes it off to Les Standiford, Paul Levine, Edna Buchanan, James W. Hall, Carolina Hospital, Evelyn Mayerson, Tananarive Due, Brian Antoni, Vicki Hendricks, John Dufresne, Elmore Leonard, and Carl Hiaasen plays clean up in the last chapter.  A few of the authors’ serial characters show up- Buchanan’s Britt Montero, Standiford’s John Deal, and Levine’s Jake Lassiter.

A 102 year old woman rescues a man from the bay and he is in possession of a canister with shocking contents.  The canister is one of a pair, both containing the head of Fidel Castro.  There are chases, murders, confusion, and a multitude of characters, including Jimmy Carter and Fidel Castro.  And there is a very introspective manatee in the bay named Booger, who thinks of the 102 year old grandmother as his ‘ma’. 

This is an interesting experiment, but it is a hot mess of a novel.  There are characters that move in and out of the story with little or no explanation, each author wanting to add something new instead of trying to build on what’s there.  The last chapter where Carl Hiaasen tries to explain everything is pretty funny considering what he had to work with.  It was wacky in a good way, but it was probably best suited to it’s original form, as a weekly magazine installment.

Skinny Dip, by Carl Hiaasen

Cover ImageFinished 6-7-08, rating 3.5/5, fiction, pub. 2004

“At the stroke of eleven on a cool April night, a woman named Joey Perrone went overboard from a luxury deck of the cruise liner M.M. Sun Duchess.  Plunging toward the dark Atlantic, Joey was too dumbfounded to panic.

I married an asshole, she thought, knifing headfirst into the waves.”   –First three sentences of the book

Chaz throws his wife over the side of the cruise ship that they happen to be on to celebrate their 2nd wedding anniversary.  He has planned and thinks that he has done everything right, the perfect crime.  Only Joey is rescued by ex-cop, Mick.  Revenge is sweet and Joey, instead of going to the police decides to play dead and drive her husband crazy.

Chaz has no redeeming qualities, except in bed, but even that skill has abandoned him after he kills Joey.  He is also a man on the take and his benefactor gets nervous and sends a bodyguard named Tool.  The detective on the case knows something is wrong, but can’t prove anything.  Chaz slowly unravels and tries to commit another murder and then one after that. 

I enjoyed this very much.  It was fun and zany and had all of the crazy characters you’d expect from Hiaasen.  I only wish Joey had more depth.  Tool was the character with the most growth and that was  an interesting choice for Hiaasen to make.  Not a bad one, just a little unexpected.  This is my second Hiassen novel and while I preferred the first one this one is good too.

Tourist Season, by Carl Hiaasen

Cover ImageFinished on 1-13-08, rating 4/5, fiction, pub. 1986

This comedy was published in 1987, but it is based on a modern day premise of over-development.  Popular Miami journalist Skip Wiley has formed his own band of terrorists to take back South Florida from the rich developers and Yankee tourists.  He has an elderly Native American, an ex-pro football player, and a Cuban revolutionary with faulty bomb making skills to help him fight his cause.  There is no one safe from their special brand of terror.  

Brian Keyes is a journalist turned private detective who has been asked to find Skip before he kills anyone else.  Brian has a few well placed allies and is able to locate Skip, if not stop him.  Skip and his band of  misfits leads Brian and the rest of Miami on a twisted ride toward chaos. 

 This all sounds so very serious, but told with Hiaasen’s light touch and slick humor it turns into a page turning caper that even a high body count cannot stall.   I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I was a little surprised at the relationship between 32 year-old Keyes and a 19 year old beauty queen.  I guess the unexpected is what keeps me reading 🙂

In 1997 at a Barnes & Noble manager’s conference Hiaasen came to speak and sign books for us.  I still have the personalized signed copy of Lucky You on my shelf.  I think I’ll have to finally read it!