Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Book Review 352: Star Island

STAR ISLAND, by Carl Hiaasen. 354 pages. Grand Central paperback, $14.99

It isn’t possible to write a satirical novel about Florida, even for a writer as talented and uninhibited as Carl Hiaasen. Satire has to go over the top, and how can you top this actual Florida event (as reported in the Orlando Sentinel):

“Crystal Metheny was arrested May 5 on a charge of shooting an offensive missile into a vehicle, according to public records from the Polk County Sheriff's Office. She was released the following day after posting $5,000 bond.”

(It does not appear she was ever prosecuted, though. Perhaps after checking the statutes, the authorities learned it is not against the law to shoot offensive —or even friendly — missiles into vehicles in Florida. I wouldn’t be surprised.)

Still, props to Hiaasen for trying. “Star Island” is his eleventh attempt. He probably fried his brain doing the research, which involved watching TMZ, Keeping Up with the Kardashians and reading People and the like non-stop for some length of time.

“Star Island” is like one of Ed McBain’s 84th Precinct novels in that it alternates between two unrelated plots.

The main one revolves around Cherry Pye, a drug and alcohol addled pop star being groomed by a pack of thoroughly despicable handlers for a last-chance comeback. Since Cherry is usually wasted, they hire Ann DeLusia, a hopeful actress, to stand in for her.

The lesser plot concerns Clinton Tyree, a sometime governor of Florida who quit in midterm and lives in a swamp, emerging occasionally to take revenge on developers and similar scum ravaging the peninsula. Here Hiaasen comes as close as he gets to creating an over-the-top character. Everybody knows there has never been an environmentalist governor of Florida.

The plots link up when both Tyree (called Skink) and Bang Abbott,  a paparazzo obsessed with taking Marilyn- Monroe-style pictures of Cherry, kidnap Ann. Much mayhem and backstabbing ensues, and the plotting is clever.

What is missing, and notably missing from a novel supposedly about the environment, is any description of Florida. Hiaasen is not much of a descriptive writer, preferring to move his plots ahead by action, character and references to pop culture. He does lavish some adjectives on the two manly and self-integrated characters, Skink and a bodyguard named Chemo.

Readers don’t get much of a feel for the ravaged beauty of either Florida or Cherry/Ann.

In compensation, they do get to enjoy gruesome ends for some (but nowhere near all) of the grifting con artists who infest the book.

Since the most fully developed character, Abbott, is a former newspaperman, I had constantly in mind the greatest satire of a newspaperman caught in sordid circumstances, Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop.” “Scoop” comes to a gruesome finish. “Star Island” ends with half of dozen even more gruesome ones.

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