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Laughter, Sure. But Make Sure the Bad Guys are Dead before the Credits Roll.
Carl Hiaasen's Skinny Dip

Readers looking for a funny thriller with a serious liberal message will enjoy Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip.

No one will ever accuse Carl Hiaasen of being a subtle novelist. He paints his satires with broad, broad strokes. But no one will accuse him of being boring or slow, either.

Skinny Dip, his eleventh novel (including the young-readers-targeted Hoot), is true to form: fast, funny and (unobtrusively) political.

It opens with Joey Perrone, a beautiful, blond, laid-back, nature-loving heiress worth millions, being thrown off the deck of a cruise ship by her sex-obsessed, nature-hating husband, Chaz. The Perrones had taken the cruise to celebrate their second wedding anniversary, but Chaz clearly would like to find a way out.

Unfortunately for him, he has forgotten that Joey had been co-captain of her college swim team, and she recovers quickly enough to knife headfirst into the water and survive a fall that would have killed most unwanted spouses on impact. Even with her diving and swimming skills, though, she can’t swim all the way to the Florida coast in the dark, choppy Atlantic, and for at least a few pages, she seems doomed to play a brief role as shark bait.

Unfortunately for Chaz, she manages to latch onto a passing bale of Jamaican marijuana before passing out, and she is soon fished out of the drink by a semi-hermit who had once been an investigator before being forced into retirement by a nasty shoot-out with a corrupt Florida judge. Once she’s recovered, Joey convinces the retired cop to delay calling the police until she has time to cook up a funny if vengeful comeuppance for Chaz.

With a guy like Chaz, of course, it’s easy to build a revenge plot that’s guaranteed to drive him into the arms of the closest policeman—or psychiatrist.

Despite hating insects, snakes and discolored water, Chaz is a marine biologist paid to collect water samples that measure the impact pesticides and fertilizers are having on the Everglades. Naturally, he hates his job, but he appreciates the unusually large sums of money he gets from a millionaire-redneck named Red Hammernut to insure that the readings don’t reveal the levels of toxic chemicals Red’s farms are dumping into the Everglades.

ENTER the good-hearted liberal message, STAGE LEFT.

As Hiaasen says in the standard disclaimer that opens works of fiction, “The events described are mostly imaginary, except for the destruction of the Florida Everglades and the $8 billion effort to save what remains.” Be forewarned: if you happen to be a land developer or tend to vote for anything that further endangers an endangered species, Skinny Dip is probably not your kind of comedy.

The rest of us will find it hilarious.

It would be a crime in itself to reveal Skinny Dip’s plot machinations; let it merely be said that they include a large, hairy, brutally violent but surprisingly sentimental bodyguard / hit man named Tool and a swamp hermit whose hallucinations include believing that everyone he sees is connected to the Nixon administration.

Skinny Dip’s plot has enough plot twists to keep its readers awake and guessing their way through what could otherwise feel like a familiar ride, and Hiaasen’s over-the-top comedy is creative in its extremes. An example: Joey’s parents, the Wheelers, owned a casino resort in Nevada, and one of its draws was a dancing-bear act run “by a semi-retired dominatrix who billed herself as Ursa Major.” When one of the star performers got an impacted bicuspid, Joey’s parents chartered a jet and flew the bear to a periodontic veterinarian at Lake Tahoe.


On the return flight something went sour and the plane nosedived into the Cortez Mountains. Federal investigators later determined that, for reasons unknown, the convalescing bear had been seated in the co-pilot’s position at the time of the crash. Film recovered from a 35-mm camera owned by the Wheelers revealed several snapshots of Boris squeezed upright behind the steering yoke. In one frame, Ursa Major was curled laughingly on the beast’s lap, tipping a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream to its unfurled lips. In a subsequent photo, Boris had been posed in headphones and tinted aviator glasses.

Taped communications between the Gulfstream and control towers en route confirmed a highly festive, and possibly distracting, atmosphere aboard the Wheelers’ jet. Why it had suddenly gone down remained a mystery, though Ursa’s assistant surmised that the bear’s sunny humor had evaporated dramatically once the Xylocaine wore off. During the aircraft’s fatal corkscrew plummet, controllers attempting to radio the cockpit received only bestial snorts and grunts in reply.


Skinny Dip has its moments of violence, but they’re mild indeed compared to Hiaasen’s Sick Puppy, for example. And with rare exceptions, the violence is directed at the thuggish bad guys who, in a comedy like Hiaasen’s, appear on the page with large bull’s-eyes painted on their greedy backs.

Like I said, Hiaasen isn’t the subtlest knife in the drawer. But he’s awfully good at the broad, funny stuff.

—Review by Charlie Onion

Posted July 7, 2004



About the Author

Photo credit: Elena Seibert

Carl Hiaasen was born and raised in Florida. He is the author of eleven previous novels, including Basket Case, Sick Puppy, Lucky You and, for young readers, Hoot. He also writes a regular column for the Miami Herald.



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