Monday, October 21, 2019

the last book I read

Sick Puppy by Carl Hiaasen.

We're in Florida, and political fixer and lobbyist and general all-round sleazeball Palmer Stoat is out hunting rhinoceros. Wait, you'll be saying, rhinoceros? In Florida? Well, yes, courtesy of the Wilderness Veldt Plantation, a slightly shady operation specialising in acquiring cast-offs from zoos and elsewhere and presenting them in a vaguely convincing wilderness location so hunters can come and bag them for their trophy collections.

When he's not taking pot-shots at geriatric pachyderms, Palmer's day job involves greasing the wheels of various political schemes, and of course creaming off some nice fat fees for doing so. The latest one involves the development of an island off the Florida coast, facilitated by the building of a shiny new bridge. Many snouts are in this particular trough, including Robert Clapley, a real-estate developer, Dick Artemus, the current state governor, and Willie Vasquez-Washington, another local politician. A nice little stitch-up seems to be coming together which will enable everyone to profit from the development scheme - well, everyone except the current inhabitants of the island, mostly toads. The developers have thought of this, though, and are having an environmental assessment done just to ensure that they won't be wiping out any endangered species.

Things start to unravel when Palmer Stoat indulges in one of his other favourite pastimes - throwing litter out of his moving pick-up truck onto the highway verge - and attracts the attention of Twilly Spree, slightly unstable and excitable eco-campaigner. Twilly is one of those convenient novel characters who is independently wealthy (an inheritance from his real-estate-developer father) and therefore can get on with doing plot development stuff rather than anything tedious like having to go to work. He decides that Palmer needs to be taught a lesson, and having failed to achieve the desired results by dumping a truckload of refuse in his car, ups the ante somewhat by breaking into his house and kidnapping his dog. In the course of this kidnap he encounters Palmer's wife Desie who tells him that the best way to get back at Palmer is to mess with his bridge project.

So Twilly decides to ransom the dog (a black labrador called Boodle whom Twilly renames McGuinn) to get Palmer to call off the project. Palmer is quite fond of the dog and does try to get the bridge delayed so that he can get him back, but it's not solely his project any more and others are very keen to press on with it and involve various heavies to try and ensure it gets pushed through. These include Mr Gash, who has a fetish for listening to real-life 911 calls on his car stereo, Karl Krimmler, the construction foreman who has a hatred of nature after once being bitten on the scrotum by a chipmunk, and, most barkingly of all, Clinton Tyree, former Florida state governor who now lives a hermitic existence in the Florida wilderness and subsists largely off roadkill.

Much skullduggery ensues, a few people get knocked off (mostly by being bulldozed under the island with the toads), Twilly hooks up with Palmer's dissatisfied wife and strikes up a friendship of sorts with Clinton Tyree. For all this, though, it still looks as if the bridge is going ahead. In the end it is Robert Clapley's obsession with his two East-European girlfriends which is the project's undoing. He has an obsession with Barbie dolls and is gradually funding a series of cosmetic operations which will turn the girls into human versions: blonde hair, giant tits and all. To keep them interested he wants to obtain some rhino horn extract which has aphrodisiac properties the girls find irresistible, and so he persuades Palmer to organise another trip to the Wilderness Veldt Plantation to bag one. But Twilly, Tyree and McGuinn have followed them and ensure that the hunt doesn't quite go to plan.

This is the second Hiaasen I've read after Lucky You way back in 2007. It shares a lot of features, which seem to be general Hiaasen themes: Florida setting, humorous crime-based plot involving political corruption and an ecological angle, lots of crazy assholes doing a bunch of crazy asshole shit. Sick Puppy struck me as slightly more ludicrous and over-the-top than Lucky You, but I may just have forgotten some of the wilder stuff in the intervening twelve years. I suspect Hiaasen may be one of those authors where a couple of books is all you need and the themes might start to get a bit repetitive after a while, though that's not to say there's anything wrong with either of the books on this list; they're highly entertaining, if a bit silly at times.

A couple of things which set off literary echoes of other works of fiction: Karl Krimmler's hatred of nature after the chipmunk incident reminded me vaguely of the character Cap in Stephen King's Firestarter who developed an obsession with snakes after Charlie's Dad did one of his freaky Jedi mind tricks on him, and one of the major characters (Clinton Tyree) being nicknamed Skink reminded me of the identically-named (though much less sympathetic) character in Willard Price's Underwater Adventure, who in a quite adult bit of plotting engineers the death of one of the other characters by making him (admittedly rather implausibly) step in a giant clam and be drowned by the rising tide while attempting to free himself by sawing his own foot off. Don't have nightmares, kids!

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