Sunday, April 19, 2009

My New Old Favorite Writer For Beach Reading

I have been on vacation as you know for the last week and let me just tell you that it was wonderful! Back home now I'm trying to make up to one dog and two cats who didn't get to vacate with us. This means that I must snuggle them all and divide the attention equally among them. The other pup is in Florida with Travis McGee who got the lovely job of cleaning and painting and scrubbing the house while I got to fly home on a 2-hour nonstop flight and take a big long nap this afternoon. I do have to appear at work at 7 am tomorrow so I would still happily trade places with him.
I managed to do my favorite thing in the world while en vacance which is reading a novel uninterrupted. I revisited my old friend Sue Grafton by rereading M is For Malice. It's a pretty good read and I love Kinsey, her heroine. I also started Middlesex which promises to be interesting but seemed to be just a little too smart for a beach read.
This brings me to my new favorite novelist, Carl Hiaasen. He's a Florida native and a columnist for the Miami Herald who writes vivid characters and plots based on the lowlifes and victims that populate South Florida. His writing reminds in so many ways of John D. MacDonald, author of my beloved Travis McGee series. He has a canny ability to develop characters who are beyond the pale morally and end up as sympathetic heroes. He also writes about the louts and con artists that deserve to get theirs. When the comeuppance finally happens there is always a sigh of relief and release of tension as you never know up to the last minute how Hiaasen is going to end his stories.
I started with a book I picked up at the Goodwill, Lucky You, about a woman who has one of two winning lottery tickets and wants to use her money to acquire a piece of land that is destined to be paved over along with the rest of Florida. Hiaasen weaves the environmental destruction of Florida into every novel of his that I've read and does so with little preachiness. The lottery winner lives in a small town known for its' religious miracles including a weeping Madonna statue and a oil stain on the highway that looks like Jesus. This book is an excellent read that I would have deemed a winner just based on the use of the term "apostolic cooters" to describe a tank full of tiny turtles that are painted with the faces of the apostles on their shells. It doesn't get any better than that.
Thanks to the Goodwill again I left Louisville with Stormy Weather, a novel that features the destruction left behind by hurricane Andrew and the passel of gritty, thrill seeking and morally ambiguous characters that come out of the woodwork to reap the benefits of tragedy. It was a completely enjoyable read and after finishing my second Hiaasen book I realized that his ear for dialogue is pure genius. His plots turn on the thinnest of circumstance but even the most minor characters are graced with fully fleshed out personas and are rarely wearing an absolute white or black hat.
After a tour of my regular Melbourne thrift stores I found Skinny Dip, a novel that opens with a woman being tossed overboard from a cruise ship by her idiot husband on their anniversary. From the first laugh, about four sentences in, I found myself regularly laughing or at least smiling at the dialogue and cast of characters including Tool, a strongarm for a corporate farmer who befriends an old lady while stealing her pain patch in a nursing home, and Chaz, the aforementioned husband who executes the perfect crime only to watch it all unravel at breakneck speed while trying to exercise his sex addiction, the only thing he's ever really been good at doing. There is also a recurring character in two of the books I've read who is always welcome as he is a mentally ill/hermetic eccentric who wears a shower cap, eats road kill and was formerly the governor of Florida. I would say you can't make this stuff up but obviously someone has and my fuzzy vacation brain was the better for it. Give Hiaasen a try. He manages to make his point about the environmental tragedy that is his beloved home state while entertaining the masses and making us laugh.


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