Punk Rock Girl

Razor Girl
Carl Hiassen

Before I read my first Carl Hiaasen novel you could not have told me that comic crime was a genre. I’m not sure you could convince me of that today because, despite being at the center of almost every Hiaasen tale, crime is almost always incidental.

As ever, the real subject is Florida and Floridians.

Actually, the subject may be real estate. I know the Sunshine State dangles unseemingly off the map of the United States, appearing to take up a lot of space. But I’m pretty sure I’ve driven from the Atlantic to the Gulf side in under two hours. And the middle of the state is where you find the big lake, the Everglades and the theme parks.  As my economist friends would say, when it comes to real estate the demand exceeds the supply, especially on the coast, and makes for odd happenings.

There’s a real estate angle here. There almost always is, though this time it’s of a more personal nature. There’s an insurance scam that’s morphed into a multi-purpose tool for abetting other crimes, sort of a Swiss Army knife of misfeasance. Let’s not forget the star of a Duck Dynasty knock-off who finds himself in a bit of a pickle with an adoring fan. There’s a principled, pot-smoking former deputy sheriff who wants back in the game, a few Hollywood/CAA types and, just for good measure, a mobster and his goons. Did I mention there’s a bad girl with a heart of gold. Like the songs says, “She’s good bad, but she ain’t evil.”

There really is a Mile Marker Zero, right in front of the Monroe County Courthouse.

Just for fun, most of the action takes place in the lower keys, meandering back and forth between Key West and the nearby islands. I’d say circling but Mile Marker Zero is the end of the line: the southern terminus of US 1 and the southernmost point in the lower 48. There are a few more uninhabited islands to the west but for most of us, the capital of the Conch Republic is as far as we can run.

How does this all mesh together?

In typical Hiaasen fashion, there are at least three storylines that converge.  Our heroine, Merry Mansfield (if that really is her name), literally jolts things into motion, rear-ending a Buick, driven by Lane Coolman, on the Overseas Highway. Her victim exits his vehicle to assess the damage and the state of the driver who he finds with her shorts unbuttoned, razor in hand. She is on her way to meet her boyfriend and needed a trim she says.

Here I have to describe a de facto natural experiment. I’ve talked with a number of people who have read the book. Many lament what they see as a reduction in overall quality from the earlier novels.  But only the women who have read it are vociferous in their criticism of the title and premise behind Merry’s, ahem, operation.

The intentional crashes in this books are about as lethal as this one.

It’s not really surprising. It’s predicted right there in the pages of the book by the author. “Men are so pitiful.” So, of course, the male readers didn’t question it. I’ll fess up. I accepted it as something just dopey enough to be possible in Florida (and maybe a few other places). I never questioned anything else about the book because to question too closely is to obliterate the fun. This isn’t journalism. It isn’t literature. It’s just fun.

Our girl, unpredictably, has hit the wrong car. That sets off a cascading chain of events since the struck driver is the agent for Buck Nance (née Matthew Morgan Romberg), the pater familias and star of  Bayou Brethren, a hit cable TV reality show. The agent is kidnapped by the girl and her accomplice. That presents a problem because when it comes to the overgrown child that is his client, Coolman’s most important task is to function as an externalized superego.

Like any good farce, a well-demarcated stage helps make the improbable less so.
Key West from the air.

The star indulges the worst aspects of his character on stage and has to flee for his life. Doing so is complicated by the fact that he’s on a 4-square mile island at the end of a more than hundred-mile long highway with long stretches over water. Luckily, a fan decides to help by kidnapping him.

The girl, meanwhile, has shifted her attention to Andrew Yancy, whose path she has accidentally crossed. Until now, he’s had only a couple of things on his mind. The primary one is how to get his job as a deputy sheriff back. An overzealous investigation with attendant unfavorable publicity has seen him reduced to working as a restaurant inspector. His other preoccupation involves the empty lot next door to his, on which the owner plans to erect a pile that will obliterate what little slice of paradise Yancy enjoys.

Somehow,  these threads all come together, festooned with characters who wander in and out to add the occasional bit of color to the tale. That’s saying something since there hasn’t been a plot as steeped in riotous pastels since Miami Vice stopped airing.

It’s not Florida without flamingos, right?

To say much more is to give away too much. I can’t help wondering, as I read these books, how Hiaasen will ever bring all the disparate parts together. Somehow he always manages to and despite what others have said (at least to me) I didn’t feel like this book was phoned in. That’s not always true but he’s been writing these for decades and they’re no less well-crafted than books by authors who crank out a new title every 12 to 18 months.

Most of the  Carl Hiaasen books I’ve read boil down to the oldest of tales, boy meets girl. This one is no different.  To complain, as some have, about formulas and slapdashery strikes me as missing the point. This is not where you turn for believability. It’s Mack Sennett for the printed page.

And when it’s cold and gray in the northeast, I can do worse than laughing my way through the improbabilities of what passes for crime in the great state of Florida.





One thought on “Punk Rock Girl

  1. Pingback: Play it Slow | An Honest Con

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