Carl Hiaasen

(Jump over to read a review of The Downhill Lie)
(Jump down to read a review of Sick Puppy)
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(Jump down to read a review of Native Tongue)

"Skinny Dip"

(reviewed by Judi Clark JUL 24, 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.V. Sun Duchess. Plunging toward the dark Atlantic, Joey was too dumbfounded to panic.

I married an asshole, she thought, knifing headfirst in the waves."

So begins Hiaasen's wild tale about a woman whose husband, "a worthless horndog," throws her overboard in attempt to murder her during their two-year anniversary cruise. Joey Perrone, former co-captain of her college swim team does what comes natural to her -- swims.

Joey doesn't make it to the Florida shore -- at least not on her own. Chaz plied her with wine before tossing her and that does make her more sluggish than normal, so much so that she clings to the "shark" that bumps up against her. Before passing out, she prays it doesn't eat her. Later, while fishing, Mick Stranahan finds her "stark naked on a bale of pot" and takes her back to the private island for which he is the caretaker.

After telling her story, Joey begs Mick not to call the authorities -- she would rather stay dead so that she can come up with a suitable revenge. She knows that with one DUI in her past, and with Chaz being such a smooth talker, that she'd have no chance with a jury believing her side of the story. Lucky for Joey, Mick is a former investigator and has some skills that will come in handy once the scheme starts to formulate. And Joey, has money, "a ridiculous amount -- more than enough to do what I have in mind for Chaz."

Meanwhile, Detective Karl Rolvag is assigned to the missing person case. As smug as Chaz is about how well he's faking his grief, Rolvag isn't buying it for no other particular reason than he just doesn't like Chaz. Certainly, Chaz tries to be likable with his "Ken-doll good looks, his priapic affability" but its seems the only one to buy into this was Joey (who is now wondering why) and the occasional mistress, who usually wises up to him sooner rather than later.

Actually, that's Dr. Charles Regis Perrone; hard to believe, but Chaz has a Ph.D in Biology, a subject he hates and is obviously the worst scientist on the planet. Despite this, Chaz has found a lucrative means of using his degree -- he tests the water in the Everglades just downstream from Red Hammernut's farms, the worst polluter in that part of Florida, and documents the phosophorus levels as being at perfectly healthy levels, if not in deed improving.

So we have Detective Rolvag trying to determine the motive-- the prenuptial means Charles couldn't have done it for the money -- and trying to solve the case (at least for his own piece of mind) before moving back to the midwest. Red Hammernut is worried about whatever dumb thing Chaz might do next that could expose their whole unethical arrangement, so he sends his best thug, Tool, to babysit Chaz. Meanwhile Tool is going through his own mid-life crisis. And Chaz thinks he's home free. Only problem is, for the fiirst time in his life he can't seem to "perform" with his mistress (or even by himself) and thus resorts to the "blue pill" (and a few hilarious scenes). Meanwhile with help from her best girl friend, her New Zealand sheepherder brother and Mick, Joey works up a scheme in which she causes Chaz to implode, but not without first learning why he tried to kill her, which we the reader know from the beginning is based on an erroneous assumption.

The thing about Hiassen's novels is that even though the whole story is completely far-farfetched, the characters ring so true (or maybe it is the dialog) that you just have go with it. It's good-time reading. There is now way not smile (and even chuckle out loud) through this book -- you'll be surprised how many separate stories Hiassen can weave into it without losing pace. Hiassen's fans know that he always has to include a message in his novels and this time it is about the fertilizers that are polluting the Everglades killing off the sawgrass. So to do my part to help spread the word and to thank Mr. Hiaasen for another enjoyable read, here is a link to some photos to show why we'd want to save the Everglades.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 418 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Skinny Dip at The Borzoi Reader

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"Basket Case"

(Reviewed by Jeremy Baumann APR 22, 2002)

It's two in the morning and I can't find an analogy to describe the frustration of wanting to tell you all about Hiassen's newest book, Basket Case, whilst revealing nada. That alone is my endorsement: you'll stay up way past your bedtime reading this book until you're finished with it. You'll miss it when you're done.

Carl Hiassen is a 25-year veteran of Florida newsrooms and, like Lawrence Shames and Elmore Leonard, he writes wonderfully telling stories of the corruption and anything-can-happen-ness of their state. Throw in a bunch of random folks with their own agendas and quirky habits and you're onto a funny and entertaining read. It's formulaic to be sure, but after ten novels, it still reads as fresh as Tourist Season, his first novel.

I can't stand murder mysteries; have I mentioned that part yet? In case not, I can't stand murder mysteries. Never read 'em. This, however, is not a murder mystery. Okay, it is a murder mystery, but it's a murder mystery buried beneath an amazing tale, absurd and wonderful plot twists, fascinating inside information about the workings of a newspaper and the people who work them, and my favorite: real laugh-out-loud humor. The sort that makes people on the subway ask what you're reading, because they want to laugh like that, too. It's not quite funny enough to make a chunk of sandwich come out your nose, but at least funny enough to get milk or soda up and out. It's funny enough you'll wake up whoever's in bed with you with laughter and want to read passages to them.

Intriguing non-sequitor alert: I recently read another book that was surprisingly very funny as well. It was surprising because 1) it was written by Stephen King and 2) because it is a nonfiction book on writing, of all things. I've never read King before and was shocked to find he's hysterical! His book about writing, entitled: On Writing, I bring it up because King makes very authorative statements about a number of writer's skills that you can bank on, including Hiassen's.

Hiassen's gift, according to Mr. King, is that he is a true master of dialogue. Wannabe writers should study his dialogue, if they know what's good for them. A conversation in one of Hiassen's books can carry on for pages at a time and somehow he'll not only rarely if ever bore you, but he'll usually manage to develop character, storyline and entertain simultaneously. That's no easy task, especially while making it seemless; his people sound perfectly natural almost always.

This book is a pretzel of a story turned inside out and was a pleasure from start to finish. Have I managed to write a review of it without revealing a drop of the story? Good.

In case you must know, it's about (cover your eyes if you don't want to know) a great reporter who's been banished to the obit column of his paper, and thus killed his career by ragging---at a shareholder's meeting---on the yuppie-CEO of the corporation who took over his paper and who raped it of it's integrity for money. Meanwhile one of the reporter's fave old punk musicians dies and his death seems mysterious. The musician's young widow is described as a bit of a Brittany Spear's type and doesn't seem too shaken up by her husband's death; she promotes her new CD at his funeral. The young widow is after success, and what was she willing to do to gain it? How will the obit writer and the rising star, her body guard and new producer---a longhaired pretty boy named L'Oreal---come together with a frozen lizard and a missing tape?'ll have to read the book to find out.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 151 reviews

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"Sick Puppy"

(Reviewed by Pat Neuman NOV 16, 2006)

“They made me take a class for it, Captain.  I was not cured.”

“A class?”

“Anger management.  I’m perfectly serious.”

“For Christ’s sake, what about GREED management?  Everybody in this state should get a course in THAT.  You fail, they haul your sorry ass to the border and throw you out of Florida…”

“… Nothing shameful in anger boy.  Sometimes it’s the only sane and logical and moral reaction… you don’t take a class to make it go away!  You take a drink or a goddamn bullet.  Or you stand and fight the bastards.”

Carl Hiassen has done it again.  He’s written an unbelievable cast of characters with improbable names into a zinging parody of the on-going rape of the beautiful state of Florida.

Twilly Spree, a young flunk-out-of-anger-management son of a former Florida land developer, still hasn’t learned his lesson after the trouble he got into for blowing up his Uncle’s bank.  He’s on his way to becoming a younger version of Hiaasen’s beloved character from previous novels, Ex-Governor Clinton Tyree, aka Skink or the “Captain,” a 6'6 lovable maniac who quit in disgust and went off to live off road kill in the swamp.

Robert Capley, a developer and former drug smuggler who has a fixation with Barbie dolls and is endeavoring to surgically transform two Eastern-European hookers into living replicas. Estella, a cigar-smoking call girl who strictly limits her clientele to Republicans. Boogle (renamed McGuinn), a lovable Labrador Retriever who really gets the reader into the mind a of the joys of being a dog. A two-legged ocelot bought by a illegal wild game farm to be passed off to hunters as a cheetah, along with two geriatric rhinoceros. Willie Vasquez Washington, another crooked politician, who will sell out anything to get a high school named after himself. Mr. Gash, a chillingly vicious hit man who listens recreationally to “snuff tapes” of actual 911 calls which he enhances with a background of classical music.

With a cast like that, you know you’re going to get a zany and unique story.

Palmer Stoat is a man who gets things done, a none-too-discriminating lobbyist for the highest bidder in Florida politics.  He’s so arrogant, the license plate on his car is COJONES.  He’s also a chronic and unrepentant litterbug, which brings him to the attention of Twilly Spree, a young and crazy eco-terrorist who just happens to have inherited five million dollars.  Driving down the highway watching Palmer throw various items of garbage out of the window of his car, Twilly becomes incensed and fixates on teaching Palmer a lesson.  Various things that he tries to make his point include dumping a trash truck load of garbage on one of Palmer’s cars and filling the other one with dung beetles; breaking into his house and removing the glass eyes from all of his trophy animal heads; and finally (inadvertently) kidnapping his Labrador puppy, Boodle.  Unfortunately, the kidnap runs into complications and Twilly finds himself also taking along Palmer’s bewildered and not entirely unwilling wife, Desie, as well.

Desie has been losing respect for her husband even before she learns of his latest scheme to get Governor Dick Artemus to approve a bill to finance a new bridge to Toad Island, so that his greedy client, developer and former drug runner, Robert Clapley, can transform it to a resort with two golf courses.  When Twilly takes her there and tells her about their plans, she is infuriated and finds herself going along with Twilly’s now expanded demands for its saving the pristine island in return for Palmer’s dog.

On Desie’s return with these demands, Palmer doesn’t even believe his wife was kidnapped and when he doesn’t take the threats seriously, Twilly escalates the menace and sends him an ear he salvaged from a dead Labrador he found on the highway.  Finally convinced, Palmer comes up with a plan to “appear” to kill the funding for the bridge and then get it back after his dog is returned.  Things get more gruesome when Chapley hears that the funding has been withdrawn and hires the porcupine-haired Mr. Gash, to get to the truth about the problem in his own unbelievably vicious style, and then get rid of all the pesky “troublemakers.”

The current Governor, (and former Toyota dealer), decides to try to avoid the complication of inevitable bloodshed by calling in the good cop/bad psycho duo of Trooper Jim Tile and Skink.  With a little blackmail, he is able to procure their reluctant assistance.  What follows is a very funny and convoluted story.

Carl Hiaasen’s characters are unbelievable (but still recognizable) caricatures of stereotypes and stories pulled out of the Miami newspaper.  He indulges his desire to be unashamedly reckless in saving what is left of all that is still pristine in Florida through his alter-ego characters, Twilly and Skink, who make a formidable modern-day anti-development S.W.A.T. team.  Add to this an outrageous and ironic twist of humor and the result may cause some to consider the validity of his points in a way that sanctimonious lecturing could never do. 

For Hiaasen fans this is one of the best novels on this theme.  To the initiated, hold on for a wild ride.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 211 reviews
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"Stormy Weather"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark JAN 2, 1999)

Carl and I talked about going back to the Florida Keys over the Christmas-New Year break but in the end we decided to wait until a less crowded time.  Reading a Hiaasen novel is almost as good as the actual trip and, I have to admit, a lot cheaper.  So with the heat cranked up and wearing my favorite t-shirt, I devoured this book!  

In Stormy Weather we meet up with one honeymooning couple. a women trying to scam the Kennedy's, a crooked jawed crook called "Snapper," a roof inspector afraid of heights, a Bofu smoking ex-governor who likes to teach tourists a lesson, a couple of moral State Troopers and a guy who relaxes by juggling human skulls.  All of these characters, and more, converge on Dade County after a Hurricane runs straight through and tears the roofs off houses and demolishes trailer homes to smithereens.

This is humanity at its worst incarnation - almost everyone is either a crook, crazy or both. As Hiaasen does best, we move from Homestead to South Miami to the Upper Keys and back several times as we follow the scams and mishaps of all of these characters. If you've read Hiaasen, you've may have met the Governor a.k.a. Skink, before as well as State Troopers, Jim Tile and Brenda Rourke.  All in all this a fast paced novel with characters and corruption that can only take place in Southern Florida.

  • Amazon reader rating: from 68 reviews

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"Native Tongue"

(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale FEB 17, 2005)

Native Tongue, the fourth solo book written by Carl Hiaasen, originally issued in 1991, has been reissued in paperback by Warner books.

I had read this book and most of Hiaasen’s solo works about 3 years ago and re-reading it brought back many memories of how good this book was, and fortunately I found it just as enjoyable and funny as the first time. I was also happy to be reminded of the big role that Skink played, who I really missed in my recent reading of Basket Case. I was a little disappointed by Basket Case and re-reading Native Tongue reinforced for me how great a read Hiaasen can be. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed Basket Case – it just didn’t meet my Hiaasen expectations.

As not so untypical of Hiaasen, the basic premise of Native Tongue is a bit absurd. Two rare blue tongued mango voles are stolen by two inept thieves from the southern Florida Amazing Kingdom of Thrills theme park. The thieves, Bud Schwartz and Danny Pogue, stole the voles for Molly McNamara, an elderly woman who is the secret head of the passionate, extremist environmentalist group, Wildlife Rescue Corps, as well as the more public and mild mannered Mothers of Wilderness. However, not realizing how rare the voles are, the thieves quickly lose them. This of course doesn’t go well with grandmotherly Molly:

“Where are they?” Molly demanded. “Where’s the box?”

Danny Pogue looked at Bud Schwartz, who said, “They got away.”

Molly folded her hands across her lap. She said, “You’re lying to me.”

“No ma’am.”

“Then tell me what happened.”

Before Bud Schwartz could stop him, Danny Pogue said, “There was holes in the box. That’s how they got out.”

Molly McNamara’s right hand slipped beneath her bathrobe and came out holding a small black pistol. Without saying a word she shot Danny Pogue twice in the left foot. He fell down, screaming, on the smooth pine floor. Bud Schwartz couldn’t believe it. He tried to speak, but there was no air in his lungs.

“You boys are lying.” Molly said. She got up from the rocker and left the room. She came back with a towel, chipped ice, bandages and a roll of medical adhesive tape. She told Bud Schwartz to patch up his partner before the blood got all over everything. Bud Schwartz knelt on the floor next to Danny Pogue and tried to calm him. Molly sat down and started rocking.

“The towel is for this mouth,” she said, “so I don’t have to listen to all that yammering.”

Great and funny dialogue. Something I’ve come to expect from Hiaasen and he certainly does not disappoint in this book. Of course this is dark humor and not for everyone.

The Amazing Kingdom of Thrills, located in the Florida Keys is a poor imitation of the Orlando area Disney theme parks. Nonetheless, Hiaasen does take some thinly veiled shots at Disney as he presents the poorly run Amazing Kingdom of Thrills. The Amazing Kingdom somehow is owned by a former New York gangster (Frankie King) who in his witness-protected identity Francis X. Kingsbury, is always looking for a way to make a buck. He has Charles Chelsea as his publicity manager and Chelsea has Joe Winder as his top speechwriter. Their initial job is to try to make the best of the public relations disaster of losing their precious voles. Unfortunately, things only get worse for everyone as the Wildlife Rescue Corps takes responsibility for taking the voles, and then the main vole scientist goes missing only to show up later inside the now dead star whale. (Hiaasen of course makes this funny.)

Although Winder initially makes some feeble attempts at writing some excuses for Chelsea and Kingsbury, he quickly tires of their act and gratefully accepts when Chelsea fires him. This only leads Winder to have some purpose to his life as he tries to learn more about the voles, the death of the scientist and about the money crazed Kingsbury.

Native Tongue is full of great dialogue and memorable characters, including Hiaasen’s few recurring characters, Skink and his trooper friend Jim Tile. One of the more ridiculous characters that adds many funny moments is Kingsbury head of security, the steroid enhanced, Pedro Luz. Pedro is always trying to find different ways to take steroids including intravenously. This R-rated excerpt is one of the best, between Luz and one of his assistants, Churrito:

And now here he [Churrito] was lecturing Pedro Luz about the perils of anabolic steroids.

“Make your face like balloon.”

“Shut up,” said Pedro Luz. He was wondering if the hospital in Key Largo would sell him extra bags of dextrose water for the IV. Grind up the stanozolols, drop them in the mix and everything would be fine again.

“Make you bulls shrink, too.”

“That’s enough,” Pedro Luz said.

Churrito held up two fingers. “Dis big. Like BBs.”

“Quiet,” said Pedro Luz. “or I’ll call a friend a mine at INS.” He couldn’t decide whether to fire the guy or beat him up. He knew which would give him more pleasure.

Carl Hiaasen has spent much of his life writing articles for the Miami Herald about improper and unnecessary development of Florida land and other Florida environmental concerns and much of this book is devoted to showing these concerns. As part of his unhappiness with Kingsbury and the loss of valuable land, Joe Winder strikes out against Kingsbury’s new unnecessary land and nature-destroying golf course, sometimes using illegal, but seemingly justified destructive methods to thwart the development.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 49 reviews

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Bibliography: (with links to

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About the Author:

Carl HiaasenCarl Hiaasen was born in 1953 and raised in South Florida.  He attended Emory University and graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Florida at Gainesville in 1974. Since 1976 he has worked at the Miami Herald as a magazine writer, an investigative reporter and for the past ten years, a metropolitan columnist.  As part of The Miami Herald's investigative team, Hiaasen has worked on projects exposing dangerous doctors in Florida, land corruption in the Florida Keys, and drug smuggling in the Bahamas and Key West. He is currently Metro columnist for the paper where his award-winning columns on rapacious development, egregious business practices, and corrupt politicians have helped clarify issues for the Florida citizenry. He has also a song writer and contributed lyrics to two songs by Warren Zevon, "Seminole Bingo" and Rottweiler Blues."

He lives in Islamorada, in the Florida Keys with his wife Fenia and their son Quinn. He has a stepson Ryan and a son Scott from a previous marriage. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014