It’s even sadder that half way through I realized the book, which I’d checked out of the local library, was already sitting on my shelf. Pitiful. And also instructive because as entertaining as these tales are, they have less sticking power than a 22-minute sitcom. Their value is entirely tied to their ability to fill time without mental calories.
That, by the way, is not a slam although I realize it reads as one. Writing something, anything, that more than a handful of people want to read is a talent. Oh sure, I fill up this space weekly (more accurately, I try to fill up this space weekly). And I’ve written a couple of things that have generated tens of thousands of dollars in sales. But that’s a far cry from repeatedly attracting and entertaining hundreds of thousands of readers. Hiaasen has that trick licked.
If the mantra of every creative writing course and program ever offered is “write what you know” then Carl Hiaasen is the poster child for doing so. A Florida native, his works is always set in the Sunshine State, and he makes liberal use of the particular admixture of humanity that the largely sub-tropical peninsula attracts.
This time that includes a typical motley crew: a photo-journalist on probation, his ex-wife and her chiropractor second husband, one of the state’s few African-American State Troopers, a quasi-reclusive ex-politician with quite a back story, a Miami PD detective comfortable with freelancing, a financial heir with a yen to catch big fish, his over-sexed sister and, just to round things out, a television preacher/cable media mogul who just happens, as a matter of birth, to actually be Jewish. Even in Florida you’ll only find a collation like this one in books by this author.
The premise here is simple. Dennis Gault, a man so impressed with his inherited wealth that he drives himself to bass fishing tournaments in his Bentley, hires R. J. Decker, the aforementioned shutterfly, to prove there’s cheating going on. Then, trusting soul that he is, he sends his sister to seduce Decker and keep tabs on him. Family means so much to some people.
Decker, not truly the sporting type, needs a guide and he winds up paired with Skink, a giant living in a shack he shares with a library of the world’s great books. Skink is a man with a past, a Francis-of-Assisi-like touch with animals and some peculiar eating habits.
Together, Skink and Decker set out to figure out just what’s going on in the world of professional bass fishing. That quest takes them on the road to New Orleans, maybe the only place in the lower 48 that can challenge Florida in attracting human flotsam, and all over the state. Even though they leave more than one body in their wake I think it would be a task to find any reader who’d hold those deaths against our heroes.
Hiaasen has a day job as a columnist for the Miami Herald and his reporting skills serve him well when he’s in novelist mode. I now know more than I ever cared to about fishing for large mouth bass and its popularity as a blood sport. I’m certain to retain not a word of it and since I fish entirely in salt water its knowledge of no use to me at all. I must remind myself that a novel is not a how-to book.
What, you ask, of the plot? Well, there are actually a few things going wrong. There is, indeed, cheating but it’s about nothing so tawdry as a fishing tournament. It’s about television ratings and advertising rates. There’s also some land fraud going on. This is a recurring theme–maybe the only recurring theme–in Hiaasen’s books and its pretty clear that for him developers represent unalloyed evil.
Indeed, developers are so nefarious that they lie behind the events that turn a sitting Governor into a fishing Yeti. That Skink is also in some ways a Jedi is just icing on the cake. In this book the developer and the religious charlatan are one and the same person and so serve a double purpose.
It’s not worth spoiling the plot with too much explication. There’s a bit of sleuthing, a lot of running around getting chased and there are a few good guys. The good guys are identifiable by the one key trait of the type drawn straight from the movies: the good guy does the right thing even when he has a sworn duty to do what he’s told.
Drink too deeply at that well and you’ll create all sorts of problems for yourself in life, I assure you. Leave the questionable life lesson aside and you’ll have a romp.