Carl Hiaasen,
Skinny Dip
(Warner, 2004)

Joey Perrone is beautiful, rich and married -- but none of that helps her when her husband, Chaz, tosses her off a cruise ship on their second anniversary. Fortunately, Joey was a competition-level swimmer back in the day, and the distant lights of the Florida coastline become much more attainable when she bumps into a floating bale of discarded Jamaican pot.

When she's rescued by remote island dweller and former cop Mick Stanahan, Joey chooses not to contact the authorities; instead, she decides a little psychological torture is in order while she tries to figure out just why Chaz opted for homicide over no-fault divorce. For Chaz, there are very few good days ahead.

Skinny Dip is a wonderfully entertaining story, and I owe my enjoyment of it all to Ron, a pulmonary technician at a local hospital who, upon learning of my fondness for writer Christopher Moore, extolled the wonders of Carl Hiaasen while putting me through a series of rigorous breathing exercises. Hiaasen doesn't spin any modern folklore into his stories -- unlike Moore and his vampires, demons and such -- but otherwise, the two authors could be spiritual twins.

Besides Joey, Chaz and Mick, Hiaasen peoples his story with a colorful array of supporting characters: Karl Rolvaag is a Minnesota Norwegian cop, miserable living in Florida, who's assigned to the case when Joey "vanishes" from the cruise ship. Red Hammernut is a thuggish Florida businessman/farmer who wants nothing to do with government efforts to save the Everglades at his expense -- and he's willing to spend a great deal of money to circumvent them. Earl Edward O'Toole, hirsute and beefy, is addicted to pain-relief patches, collects roadside memorials and is willing to thump people as his duty requires. And there's even Maureen, a lonely, feisty old woman, dying of cancer in a nursing home, who's willing to trade her meds for a little company.

Hiaasen gets extra points in my book for throwing in brief but informative rants on the state of the Everglades and the government's too-little, too-late attempts to preserve them. I knew about their all-important natural diversity, but Hiaasen taught me a thing or two about the once-massive swamp's impact on both the ecologic and economic viability of Florida's southern end. Heck, a little consciousness-raising rarely goes amiss.

Bottom line, I thoroughly enjoyed this Skinny Dip in Hiaasen's imagination and am eager to read more from this clever and talented writer. It looks like he's been fairly prolific in recent years, so I expect I won't have to wait too long.

by Tom Knapp
13 May 2006

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