by Carl Hiaasen
Reviewed by Jeff Baker
Carl Hiaasen is shooting fish in a barrel.
An expert fisherman and passionate environmentalist, Hiaasen uses a sunny combination of satire and outrage to expose the greedy, crooked creeps that make Florida such a weird place. He's been doing it as a reporter and columnist for the Miami Herald for almost 35 years and has brought his wicked wit and true moral compass to a series of popular novels. Success hasn't softened his sharp eye or caused him to pull his punches (although he did write a humorous golf book). Like John Grisham and Stephen King, Hiaasen uses his fame to speak up for what he believes and supports worthy causes. He is one of the good guys.
He's also a brand-name author. The golf book and an enthusiastically received trio of young-adult novels have moved Hiaasen from slapsticky, mildly raunchy crime novelist to Big Time Author. Star Island, his new novel, is his first for adults in five years. It has all the usual Hiaasen elements -- a sleazy developer, a level-headed heroine, a collection of lowlifes that makes the criminals in an Elmore Leonard novel look brainy, and a contemporary subject (in this case, celebrity culture) ripe for the satirical picking.
Star Island also has two recurring characters who are fan favorites: Skink, the touchy, roadkill-gobbling ex-governor of Florida; and Chemo, a former bouncer in a punk club who had a weed wacker attached to one arm after a too-close encounter with a barracuda in Skin Tight. Skink's direct style of environmental activism includes putting a sea urchin on the scrotum of a developer who hired crackheads to cut down 20 acres of endangered red mangroves. Chemo "walked out of maximum security and straight into a job selling home loans in Orlando."
The plot of Star Island is like an alligator in the Everglades, twisty and hard to follow. Don't grab it by the tail. It starts with a pop star, Cherry Pye (think of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, fighting in a gas station bathroom). Cherry's parents and her manager are pushing her to get ready for a tour to promote her new album, "Skankily Klad." She just wants to take drugs and have sex and doesn't want to rehearse. "There's, like, eighteen songs to learn and they're all different."
Cherry's parents employ an actress named Ann DeLusia to double for Cherry and appear in public when she's too wasted. Chemo is hired as Cherry's new bodyguard. Ann accidentally gets involved with Skink's action against the developer and then gets kidnapped by Bang Abbott, a paparazzo who's obsessed with Cherry. Skink comes to Ann's rescue, Cherry gets a tattoo of Axl Rose's head on the body of a zebra, which reminds her date of "his Aunt Christine, who'd been banished from holiday gatherings after assaulting the family Airedale."
It's a long story, and while Hiaasen tells it with his customary brio, it feels a little forced. The scenes between Ann and Bang have no snap, and Skink really doesn't have much to do. It's fun to look at the paparazzi from both sides (Cherry and her mother call them "the maggot mob"), but other than this rhythmic list, Hiaasen doesn't bring anything fresh to the table:
"Meanwhile, Bang Abbott would rejoin the maggot mob and get back in the hunt for Lindsay, Paris, Nicole, Kim, Katie, Kate, Katy, Posh, Star, Mischa, Penelope, Jen, Julia, Jessica, Reese, Winona, Gisele, Heidi, Miley ... No!"