Wednesday 25 June 2008

A Wee Review - Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen

CSNI's international man of mystery, Mike Stone, is back with another review. To you, Mr Stone...

Honey Santana is not a woman to be messed with. Her employer Louis Piejack finds this out when he grabs her right breast at work. He gets his nuts pulverised by a mallet for his troubles. He’s not alone. Boyd Shreave, a Texan telemarketer, is tricked into going to Florida to meet Ms Santana, simply because he insulted her over the phone. He’s accompanied on the plane by his bimbo girlfriend, Eugenie Fonda and, unwittingly, a PI hired by Mrs Shreave who is after *ahem* penetrative film footage of the wayward Mr Shreave and Ms Fonda.

Then there’s Sammy Tigertail, on the run because he believes he will be blamed for the death of a white tourist, and Gillian, who despite Sammy’s pleas, insist on being his hostage.

What ensues is a romp around the Everglades’ Ten Thousand Islands, where at some point in the story everybody is kidnapped by somebody else.

I’ve read a dozen or so of Carl Hiaasen’s earlier books and they’re nearly all cut from the same cool, mozzie-repellent linen. We’re in the balmy, mosquito- and crime-infested Sunshine State, check. Our hero or heroine is a tough-as-old-boots eco-warrior, check. The villain is a deformed, demented, accident waiting to happen, check. And don’t forget the sprinkling of corrupt politicians, alligators, and hopeless city folks flailing in the Everglades, check, check and check.

Is that a taciturn Seminole Indian, I see? Oh good. Check.

Not that this is an entirely bad thing. It’s a bit like settling down to watch the latest Bond flick. You know there’s going to be gunfights and vehicle chases, spectacular gadgetry, gorgeous girls and a megalomaniac (usually with a murderous henchman) bent on world domination. They are the vital ingredients for a successful Bond film, although even the most ardent Bond-fan will admit it can all get a bit samey sometimes.

And so it is with Hiaasen.

I had difficulty differentiating the characters of Nature Girl from those in previous books. Hiaasen sometimes reintroduces characters from previous works and I did wonder whether I was meeting old characters whose names I’d forgotten. But no, this was an all-new cast; any likeness was purely coincidental. For the first few chapters or so I was thinking, “Oh hum.” The story jumped around with only tenuous links between the characters, and it felt like the links, when they formed, relied a little too much on coincidence at times.

All of which would make for a rather negative review. Except, around page fifty, Hiaasen’s magic started to kick in and [reviewer’s hyperbole] my doubts were swept away by a tide of cartoon violence, glorious innuendo and madcap capers. [end reviewer’s hyperbole] Things get seriously crazy and it’s all heady stuff. There might be times, though, when Hiaasen takes things too far. Such as when Louis Piejack’s fingers are pinched off by jumbo-sized stone crabs and surgically re-attached by a surgeon. There is a comedy of errors and the fingers get sewn back onto his hand but in the wrong places.

Hiaasen’s dialogue, though, is never less than 100% real, whether he’s writing from the POV of a city-slicker from Texas, a sorority girl from Massachusetts or the 12-year old son of a crab fisherman. I grew fond of Honey Santana and her son, Fry, and Sammy Tigertale and Gillian. You even end up feeling sorry for schmucks like Boyd Shreave.

Do I recommend Nature Girl? Well, that’s a tricky one. It’s like someone asking you if James Bond is any good. Well, is he?

If you’re a stranger to Hiaasen I’d recommend you try Skin Tight or Sick Puppy first. If you’ve read them, well you’re a probably a fan anyway and have Nature Girl on your bookshelf. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Four stars.

Michael Stone was born in 1966 in Stoke-on-Trent, England. Since losing most of his eyesight to Usher Syndrome, he has retreated from your world to travel the dark corners of inner space. To put it more prosaically, he daydreams a lot.

Read more about Michael and his fiction here.

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