Carl Hiaasen,
Strip Tease
(Warner, 1993)

I've never seen the movie. Film clips showing Burt Reynolds in cowboy boots, cowboy hat and towel didn't entice me. Neither did reports of Demi Moore's newly sculpted body, which I thought had been perfectly fine without surgical enhancements.

But having recently been hooked on Carl Hiaasen's writing, I picked up the novel -- without, oddly enough, even realizing the movie connection until I was a solid 100 pages or more along. Fortunately, by that point I already had my own vision of the principal characters and didn't have to picture Burt and Demi in those roles.

The movie was critically panned and a box-office flop. The novel, on the other hand, is an exceptional read.

Erin Grant is a stripper in a south Florida bar. A former secretary with the FBI, she took up the new career because she needed the income to fight her vile, larcenous ex-husband -- and his pet judge -- for custody of their 4-year-old daughter.

David Dilbeck is a Florida politician with a growing inventory of secret sexual perversities -- and, after a bottle-wielding brawl at the Eager Beaver, his lust for Erin Grant grows rapidly into obsession.

Meanwhile, a Florida homicide detective vacationing in Montana discovers a body floating in the water -- and the corpse just happens to have been a big fan of Erin's body of work, as well as a witness to Dilbeck's fit of indecorous behavior. One of the strippers keeps seeing famous people in the audience. A pet snake dies. A pack of rats is set free. And Shad, the Eager Beaver's burly bouncer, has hidden a very large cockroach in a container of yogurt.

Without spiraling out of control, the story grows to include a dogged investigator operating outside his jurisdiction, erotic creamed corn and linguini wrestling, an ongoing wheelchair scam, mutilated Barbie dolls, an over-his-head litigator and the powerful Florida sugar industry.

The various threads of the story come together as beautifully as Erin's outfits come apart. While in some ways a suspenseful thriller and, in others, a family drama, the story at the same time is innately funny. It all fits into a single yarn, tightly woven and colorfully devised.

It's a rare treat to discover so talented and entertaining a writer who's so well established, with an impressive library of novels already available on the shelves. Hiaasen has a wry sense of satirical humor in his writing, and his stories are intelligent and obviously well researched. I look forward to continuing my exploration of his works.

by Tom Knapp
10 June 2006

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