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Posts Tagged ‘Carl Hiaasen’

Any other August, I’d have spent the last few weeks finishing up summer reading and maybe getting a head start on fall.  But 2020 continues to be a year like no other, and I haven’t been reading much, or writing at all, because who doesn’t want to move during a pandemic? Yes, after 21 years in the same place, I’m downsizing and moving to a downtown apartment. It’s only two miles away, but that makes no difference when packing up and clearing out clutter — and books. I’m going to have to leave behind my beautiful floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall bookshelves that my friend and former colleague Don Hey built in my den. I may cry.

This will be my last post for awhile while I actually move and settle in the new digs. But before I go, some thoughts on what I did read this summer and what you might want to read, too.

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill published a trifecta of winning novels by several of my favorite authors. Jill McCorkle’s affecting Hieroglyphics focuses on an elderly couple who have moved south from New England after many years and whose lives intersect with a hard-working single mother and her quirky son. All of these characters have been shaped by loss and grief, and McCorkle gracefully weaves in backstories and memories of how each has coped. It’s reflective rather than sad, and I found myself smiling in recognition. Some years ago, author Caroline Leavitt lapsed into a long coma after the birth of her son, and she reimagines that experience in her new novel With or Without You. Stella, a nurse, and Simon, a sessions musician, have been together for 20 years when Stella accidentally mixes up some meds and falls into a coma just as Simon is getting ready to tour with his band. Now he sits beside Stella’s hospital bed, stuck out of time, wondering if he’s missing his big break and finding support from Libby, a doctor and Stella’s best friend. When Stella finally wakes up, she’s unaware of Simon and Libby’s relationship, but she feels like a different person. Her old life and job no longer fit, and she has an amazing new talent for drawing and painting. Like Leavitt’s other novels, including Cruel Beautiful World and Pictures of You, this book is wonderfully written and psychologically astute. In The Lives of Edie Pritchard, Larry Watson is at his storytelling best as he depicts the title character at three points in her life. It’s set mostly in Montana, where readers first meet Edie, an unhappily married bank teller who wonders if she should have chosen her husband’s twin brother. Men are so caught up by Edie’s good looks that they discount her smarts and strength of character. Edie’s possessive second husband makes that mistake, too, and her teenage daughter resents her. Skip forward another 20 years, and it’s 2007. Edie is 64, dealing with a rebellious granddaughter who also has boy trouble, and also with a younger man who wants to control her. No way.

In crime fiction, James Lee Burke’s A Private Cathedral (Simon & Schuster, digital galley) adds to the Dave Robicheaux mythos as the detective and his buddy Clete Purcel step into the past with warring Louisiana crime familes, star-crossed lovers and an evil assassin with paranormal abilities. This is Burke’s 40th book, the 23rd in the Robicheaux series, and Burke’s lyricism makes for a fevered dream of a book as Dave confronts new loves and old demons. Newcomer Alex Paresi goes metafictional with The Eighth Detective (Henry Holt, digital galley), a clever homage to Golden Age mysteries that is intellectually engaging but emotionally flat. Years ago, Grant McCallister came up with a mathematical formula for detective stories and wrote seven short stories to prove his point. Now, book editor Julia Hart seeks out McCallister on a secluded Mediterranean island as her company prepares to republish the collection. As she goes over the stories with the writer, she notices some inconsistencies that need explaining — and thereby hangs the tale. In Denise Mina’s standalone, The Less Dead (Little, Brown, digital galley), Glasgow doctor Margo Dunlop, in search for her biological mother, connects instead with her aunt. A former drug addict and sex worker, Nikki tells Margo that her mother Susan was murdered shortly after Margo’s birth 30 years ago. But Nikki swears she knows the killer and wants Margo to help her get the goods on the former cop. Poor Margo — she’s mourning the recent death of her biological mother, is secretly pregnant and has an erratic best friend in an abusive relationship. Then she starts getting threatening letters.  Carl Hiaasen’s hilarious Squeeze Me (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley) made me forget all about the misery of moving because I was too busy turning pages. Granted, fans of the current president might not like this particular mix of mystery and political satire, but the character known as Mastadon fits right in with Hiaasen’s merry band of misfits. There’s petite Palm Beach socialite Kiki Pew Fitzsimmons who goes missing during a fundraiser at Lipid House. There’s critter removal expert Angie Armstrong who gets the call to take out the 18-foot-Burmese python with a large lump in its stomach. There are a couple of feckless thieves that steal the frozen snake from Angie’s storage locker. There’s asylum-seeker Diego Beltran who picks up a pink pebble and then is accused of killing Kiki.  There’s the first lady called Mockingbird who is very close to a certain Secret Service agent. And there’s the weirdness that is Florida, Hiaasen-style. Winner winner, python dinner.

See you in September, or maybe October. There’s an avalanche of autumn books about to fall, including new titles from Bobbie Ann Mason, Alice Hoffman, Matt Haig, Anthony Horowitz, Sue Miller and Tana French. I can already tell you to keep a lookout for One by One by Ruth Ware and The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves. Such good books; they kept me from packing.

 

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ladiesnightYes, spring was late most places, but Florida is already prepping for a long, hot summer, as my pal Mike reminded me. Could I recommend some books for those seeking escape from the heat and humidity? You betcha. Here’s my TBR summer list, or at least the beginning of it.

Ladies’ Night, by Mary Kay Andrews (St. Martin’s Press; June). After driving her cheating husband’s sports car into the pool, a Florida lifestyle blogger moves in with her widowed mom who owns a rundown beach bar. Court-mandated divorce therapy sessions soon evolve into “ladies’ night’ at The Sandbox. Andrews’ 2012 hit, Spring Fever, just pubbed in paperback.

badmonkeyBad Monkey, by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf; June). The king of comic crime (Skinny Dip, Lucky You, Stormy Weather) returns with the tale of a former South Florida cop who is drawn into a murder investigation involving his ex-lover, real-estate speculators, a kinky coroner, a voodoo queen, a frozen arm and the eponymous monkey. 

Heart of Palm, by Laura Lee Smith (Grove/Atlantic; April). I reviewed this first novel a couple weeks ago (“Family Matters.”). To recap, the past and future collide when the quirky Bravo clan of a sleepy North Florida town must decide whether to sell the family homestead to real-estate developers.

boardstiffBoard Stiff, by Elaine Viets (NAL; May). South Florida sleuth Helen Hawthorne works “dead-end jobs” to keep off the grid. Murder Unleashed found her at a dog grooming parlor, while she was a yacht crew member in Final Sail. In the 12th in the cozy crime series, Helen and her new P.I. husband are on the trail of “the Paddleboard Killer.”

The Blood of Heaven, by Kent Wascom (Grove/Atlantic; May).  In this early 19th-century frontier epic, a preacher’s son runs off to Spanish-held West Florida before joining up with other radicals in New Orleans, where Aaron Burr wants to create a new country.

gatsbygirlsThis summer’s classic re-read appears to be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, what with the new movie coming out in May. The renewed interest in Fitzgerald extends to his Southern belle wife, Zelda Sayre, the subject of two new novels.  Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann Fowler (St. Martin’s Press) was published in late March, and Call Me Zelda (NAL) by Erika Robuck, who wrote Hemingway’s Girl, comes out in May. So does Gatsby Girls (BroadLit), a collection of eight Fitzgerald short stories inspired by Zelda and which originally appeared in The Saturday Evening Post.

Open Book: I have digital galleys of most of the above, and I’ll be buying copies of the books by Andrews and Viets, who are friends.

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I haven’t read much the last few days because I’ve been ranting to my friends about Florida Gov. Rick Scott using “emergency powers” to make immediate deep cuts to programs that serve tens of thousands of developmentally disabled residents. The story hit the headlines across the state on Friday, but this was no  April Fool’s joke.  If you don’t already know the dastardly details, look up Kate Santich’s stories on orlandosentinel.com http://tinyurl.com/4ytas2z

Before I go any further, I’m not objective about this. I know social workers whose clients’ quality of life and care are going to be seriously affected because of the budget cuts. Scott is going after the most vulnerable among us — people with Down’s Syndrome, severe autism, cerebral palsy and other ailments, largely impoverished and many without family.

I did not vote for Scott, but this is not sour grapes because my candidate lost by an oh-so-slim margin. No, let’s call it grapes of wrath. Based on what Scott says and does, I think he’s a heartless hypocrite, who, as columnist and novelist Carl Hiaasen has said, “seems to redefine crazy at least once a week.”

Carl will be the featured speaker Wednesday night in Orlando for the Adult Literacy League’s fundraiser, “Between the Wines.” The event is almost sold out, but you can still call the league office at 407-422-1540 to get tickets and last minute-info about the event.  

Sentinel TV critic Hal Boedeker had a good Q&A with Carl last week, http://tinyurl.com/3r47vyj Here’s what Carl said about Scott: “Nobody knows that much about Scott right now, except that he’s a rigid ideologue. Obviously he’s a bit hazy on how the process of government works, and also on the concept of separation of powers. If he gets even half of what he wants in his budget cuts, many Floridians are going to be stunned by what happens to their daily lives in regard to schools, medical treatment, public parks, local police and fire services. Try calling the Tea Party if your house goes up in flames.”

I’ve interviewed Carl numerous times over the years about his gonzo satirical novels. Although he notes that there is immediate satisfaction in writing his Miami Herald column on politicians’ shenanigans, he says there’s fun to be had in fiction because you can make sure the bad guys get what they deserve. His villains come to notoriously bad ends.

At the moment, Scott reminds me of  two infamous characters preying on the weak — the professional wheelchair thief in Strip Tease and the guy who stole fentanyl patches from bedridden cancer patients in Skinny Dip. This being Florida, Carl based both on real people who got caught.

In my post last summer on Carl’s most recent novel, Star Island, I suggested that some readers might write in the name of their favorite recurring character on their fall gubernatorial ballots. That would be Skink  — the crazy ex-governor who comes out of the swamps to dispense vigilante justice on those who would despoil his beloved Sunshine State. Right now I would really like to see Skink invoke his emergency powers and go after Gov. Stink. Seriously.

Open Book:  That’s a picture of Carl Hiaasen. I could have used a photo of Gov. Rick Scott, but I didn’t want to frighten the horses and small children.

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I fully expect Clinton Tyree to garner a number of write-in votes in the upcoming Florida gubernatorial election. Or some may just scribble “Skink,” the name the former governor of the Sunshine State goes by these days in Carl Hiaasen’s wild and crazy novels. Ever since Tallahassee politics drove him off the deep-end, Skink has been hiding in the South Florida swamps, dining off roadkill and blissing out to classic rock on an ancient boombox, emerging only to deal out eco-justice to those who would harm his beloved state.

“The cherished wild places of his childhood had vanished under cinder blocks and asphalt, and so, too, had the rest of the state been transformed — hijacked by greedy suckworms disguised as upright citizens. From swampy lairs Skink would strike whenever an opportunity arose, and the message was never ambiguous.”

No kidding. After reading Hiaasen’s latest romp, Star Island, I’ll never look at sea urchins in quite the same way. But remembering how a frozen monitor lizard became a murder weapon in a previous book, and an amorous dolphin committed foul play in another, I’m not surprised. Count me among the Carlheads  pleased to see Skink in action again, as well as Chemo, the facially disfigured felon with a weed-whacker for an arm. (A barracuda took a bite of the original). 

Actually, Skink and Chemo play supporting, although significant roles, in Star Island, which falls into the classic Carl tradition of outrageous, chuckle-inducing satire. As Hiaasen himself has noted, making fun of the weirdness that is Florida is like shooting fish in a barrel. No matter that his targets are Shamu-sized this time around, his aim is as true as ever.

Meet Cherry Pye, born Cheryl Gayle Bunterman in Orlando 22 years ago, who rose to teen stardom after being spotted as a cart-wheeling cowgirl on Nicklelodeon by talent shark Maury Lykes, producer of Jailbait Records. That Cherry cannot sing proves no hindrance to her pop-tart fame. She can dance and lip-synch with the best of them on a good day. Alas, much to the displeasure of Maury and her stage-managing parents Ned and Janet, Cherry hasn’t had many good days lately because of numerous overdoses, meltdowns, sexcapades. And she’s not the most intelligent ant at the picnic.

Because the made-to-look identical twin sisters, the Larks, only can put so much spin on their celebrity client’s repeat offenses, actress Ann DeLuisa is secretly hired as Cherry’s “undercover stunt double” to fool the tabloid press and paparozzi. When Cherry’s in rehab or gone AWOL with actor Tanner Dane Keefe on Star Island, Ann’s in dark glasses at the South Beach clubs and parties. 

But plans for Cherry’s new CD and concert tour go terribly wrong (Have you ever noticed how often cable TV anchors use that phrase?).  Photographer Claude “Bang” Abbott, who “once worked for a serious newspaper, back in the day when newspapers mattered,” mistakenly kidnaps Ann, who has smarts as well as looks. She also has a phone number to reach out to Skink, who was so impressed with her during a recent bus hijacking, that he rushes from the mangroves to her rescue. Mayhem ensues. Toss in a sleazy developer, a scumbag politician, a scorned source for “maggot mob” members like Claude, a South American hitman, the aforementioned Chemo (now Cherry’s security guard), a few gullible tourists, and, wow, Hiaasen has really chummed that barrel.

It is literally a sad state of affairs (although very funny) when Hiaasen has to go so far over the top to keep up with current headlines. But it gets harder and harder to make this stuff up about Florida now that other states — South Carolina, Alaska, Arkansas — are putting their brand on bizarre. Yet Jersey Shore still cast its second-season net to Miami. Cherry Pye all around!

Open Book: I bought the e-book edition of Star Island (Knopf) to add to my permanent collection, which began with 1986’s Tourist Season.  I think that was also the same year I first interviewed Carl. Central Florida Carlheads should know that the author is scheduled to sign copies of Star Island at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 1 at Borders in Winter Park. (Still working on how he’ll sign my e-book).

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