by Carl Hiaasen
Every Carl Hiaasen novel must be somebody’s first, and this is mine. His previous books have all been optioned by movie studios, according to The Boston Globe, but only one (not counting the likable Doc Hollywood, based on an early collaboration) has been made thus far: To those who have not yet cracked their first Hiaasen tome, he may be best known as the author of the novel Strip Tease, which was made into a bad movie starring Demi Moore’s breasts.
Skinny Dip makes it easy to see why Hiaasen is attractive to Hollywood. In broad outlines, it’s the kind of story they love to tell over and over again with Ashley Judd as The Woman Scorned. Joey Perrone is tossed off a boat by her husband Chaz, for reasons unknown. A former college swimmer, she survives and uses her smart mind, mouth to match, and considerable resources to bring her would-be killer not to justice, but to the brink of stark, utter paranoia. (How considerable? She can afford to use helicopters)
Sympathetic characters, the kind that make actors drool, abound on both the good and bad sides of the isle; even Chaz is an extra-lovely fuckup as he wonders: “How can it be so hard to kill somebody?” As for Stranahan, Joey’s ally and co-conspirator, you have to like a guy who screens younger women he’s considering getting involved with by challenging them to name all four Beatles (Joey passes). Or who, when blackmailing Chaz (who thinks he is a witness), ups his price when the hapless husband mistakes a Jerry Lewis impression for Jim Carrey. Then there’s Joey’s loopy, sheep-herding brother from New Zealand. He carries a staff.
Stranahan appeared in an earlier novel of Hiaasen’s (Skin Tight) which of course makes me want to investigate that earlier title and others. That’s how they get us, you know, those novelists (I’ve already read one other since originally completing this review. It — Basket Case — was fun).
It’s also just as easy to see why Hiaasen’s work resists adaptation. For one thing, unless cast, directed, and of course adapted just right, Skinny Dip would play like just another one of those stories they love to tell over and over again with Ashley Judd as The Woman Scorned…
But it appears Hiaasen’s following admires his books for more than their funny characters; his satiric point of view is mentioned in almost all reviews of his previous works. In movies and television, to paraphrase a famous George S. Kaufman quote, satire is what closes on Saturday night (The Daily Show and Michael Moore’s best work notwithstanding). It would be a mistake to make this sound like an academic condemnation of crooked biologists and developers (though condemn them it does), but in Skinny Dip, Hiaasen is turning that satirical POV on the rape of the environment, particularly in the Everglades. Hiaasen, who aside from his novels is a columnist and winner of the Damon Runyon award, grew up and lives in Florida. “Seeing a place you loved cut up and parceled made me cynical at an early age,” he told the Denver Post.
As a mystery, this is one of those cases where getting there is at least half the fun. There’s no question of whodunit; that’s revealed in the fantastic opening lines of the first paragraphs on the first page. “Whyhedunit” is also easily guessed. What remains is to see how Chaz’s half-assed murder plan will blow up in his face. Fortunately, the resolution is even more satisfying for the reader than it is for Joey.
Carl Hiaasen: www.carlhiaasen.com