FLORIDA BIZARRE: CARL HIAASEN STRIKES AGAIN WITH RAZOR GIRL

razor girl cover

Carl Hiaasen’s new book, Razor Girl, will be available at the Field Library as of September 6.

If you’re a fan of Hiaasen’s work, that sentence is all you need; you will immediately put the book on hold (but you’ll get it after I do, because I already have it on hold!) and wait with bated breath for the warped delight of a new book by Hiaasen.

If, however, you are unfamiliar with the Florida grotesquerie that is the subject of Hiaasen’s books, allow me to introduce you to a funny, if definitely warped, writer who will make it impossible for you to ever look at Florida in quite the same way again.

It’s hard to describe what that special something is about Hiaasen.  It’s certainly his characters, who range from obituary writers to mafiosi to health inspectors to undercover stunt doubles for wasted pop stars to former governors of Florida who have gone to ground in the Everglades.  Quirky isn’t even the beginning of the description of these people, all of whom are vivid and full of life (even if you’re glad they’re not living in your neighborhood).  But it’s also his twisted plots, the intertwining of disparate, equally bizarre and warped, goings on to come together in a satisfying conclusion.

He also writes nonfiction (most recently Dance of the Reptiles in 2014) and children’s and young adult books (Hoot, Scat, Chomp and Flush), and if you enjoy his unique sensibility, by all means give them a try as well.  But he won my heart with his adult novels.

skinny dip cover

One of my favorites, which I often recommend to people, is Skinny Dip. A corrupt marine biologist (yes, they do exist, especially in Hiaasen’s world) is falsifying data so his employer can continue to dump fertilizer illegally in the Everglades.  When he thinks his wife is onto him, he tries to kill her by pushing her overboard off a cruise ship in the Atlantic, only she doesn’t drown. Instead, she manages to ride to shore on a bale of marijuana, and meets up with a former cop.  Since her husband not only tried to kill her but thinks he succeeded, the wife, Joey, joins with the ex cop to keep her existence secret and to mess with her husband’s head, gaslighting him and making him seem less and less stable to the dangerous people he’s working for. I won’t spoil the book by telling you more about the plot, but trust me, it’s hysterical, a roller coaster ride you can’t stop reading.

bad monkey

His last book, Bad Monkey, starred Andrew Yancy, a former Miami police officer who lost his job because, in a fit of passion, he attacked his then lover’s new lover with a Dust Buster mini vacuum cleaner.  As the book opens, Yancy is working as a health inspector, a job that makes him sick (you, too, will have trouble looking at restaurants in the same way after reading about some of his encounters), but hopes to move to the Sheriff’s office if he can solve a murder case arising from the presence of a severed arm in his freezer (it’s complicated). At the same time, he’s sabotaging the attempts of his jerk of a neighbor to sell the neighbor’s house (in bizarrely inventive ways), and he finds himself involved with the bad monkey of the title, a monkey formerly starring in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, as well as a voodoo queen with homicidal tendencies, and a kinky medical examiner who’s stolen his heart.

It’s a good sign that Yancy shows up in Hiaasen’s newest book, Razor Girl, because he’s such a great character, in a book full of interesting characters.  Our protagonist, Lane Coleman, represents Buck Nance, an accordionist who’s rebranding himself as the star of a redneck reality show.  Lane’s car is rear-ended by a car driven by the notorious Merry Mansfield, the Razor Girl of the title, and the seeming accident is really part of a scam she’s running. Things spiral out of control quickly, as you would expect when you have characters like a New York mafiosi, a man who runs a company called Sedimental Journeys, which steals sand from one beach to put on another that’s eroding, and giant Gambian rats infesting the restaurants Yancy is continuing to inspect. Yancy lives in hope that he will solve a murder and return to being a detective, and possibly the Razor Girl will be the key to getting him there. Naturally, a description like this is wholly inadequate to convey the fun and madness of Carl Hiaasen firing on all cylinders.  The only thing to do is get the book and read it for yourself.

 

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