The Miami Herald was a huge factory stuffed with talented reporters, editors and photographers when I worked there. Carl Hiaasen did some writing for the Sunday magazine, my little niche in the mammoth enterprise. Mostly I knew him as a prolific columnist, relentless reporter and slightly obsessed environmentalist. Florida’s fragile ecosystems were his passion and they still are. But it turned out the man had a streak of madness as unstoppable as the zany, whacked-out stories we all scrambled to cover in that most insane locale. Miami had cocaine cowboys shooting up shopping malls, holy virgins appearing on the trunks of trees, developers draining the Everglades and Carl jamming it all into crackpot, comic romps through murders and mayhem. I believe every one of them, and there are many by now, became a bestseller.
The allure of Hiaasen’s mysteries? satires? comedies? to me is the recognition of the characters and the events. You think they are fiction but I can tell you he hasn’t made up a thing. Skink is modeled on a real governor and South Beach happens just like he tells it and the Keys always have some dastardly, greed-driven project brewing and the hit men and the unnatural blonds and even the roadkill and the gourmet gators are a dime a dozen on the police scanners. Hiaasen has collected them all.
Star Island is a send-up of the sordid little world of pill-popping, mojito-swigging, post-pubescent celebrities, the rank paparazzi who trail them, the really vulgar stage parents who use the kids, and the perennial bad guys who turn up book-after-book trying to make a killing in real estate and killing everything for miles around while they’re doing it. Cherry Pye is the kid who didn’t: sing on her albums; have a shred of identifiable talent; stay sober for more than fifteen minutes in any given week; survive the meat grinder of fame with much of herself intact. Ann DeLusia is Cherry’s double, the blond who shows up stunning and walks straight on the red carpet and makes it into all the tabloid photos when good old Cherry is doing time in rehab or puking in her hotel room. Bang Abbott is a scumbag shooter who has a thing for Cherry, no scruples and almost no acquaintance with soap and water. A large cast of characters have a stake in Cherry’s upcoming comeback tour but Cherry has a jones for designer drugs and plenty of vodka and a third-rate actor who’s renting the house on Star Island in Biscayne Bay where some of the action takes place.
Hiaasen has packed in his usual suspects – the bodyguard with the weedwacker hand, the scam-artist developer with a scrotum full of sea urchin spines – ouch – the botoxed twin publicists who should be strategizing the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, the redoubtable Skink with his taxidermy glass eye, his scavenged dinners fresh off the highway and his mission to save the sea turtles and the scrub pines. It’s humongous fun. Things fall apart right away and then they really fall apart. Just when you thought—but no, the plot veers drunkenly in a new direction and you’re off in hot pursuit.
My favorite Hiaasen books are his kid stories – Hoot, Flush and Scat – but it’s entertaining to see the world through Skink’s eye now and again and Star Island delivers a rollicking good read with generous helpings of poetic justice, a tour bus-jacking, some fast cars – not all of them on the road – a few sharks – not all of them in the water — and an unbelievably bad and prominent tattoo. It will cheer you up.
Star Island Carl Hiaasen | Alfred A. Knopf 2010