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Where there's Smoke, there's fire
on February 21, 2009
One of the legacies of J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter books is a virtual glut of so-called "young adult" literature that can appeal to both kids and adults. The problem is that not all writers, even those successful at "adult" fiction, can write for this particular audience (for example, Michael Chabon is generally a good writer, but his attempt at this genre, Summerland, falls flat). Fortunately, Carl Hiaasen is not one of these lacking writers, as demonstrated in his first foray, Hoot and again in his new book, Scat.
The main character in Scat is Nick, a mid-teens Florida kid concerned about his father, a reservist in Iraq. These concerns are justified but are also competing with a more local concern: the disappearance of the dreaded Mrs. Starch, Nick's drill sergeant of a biology teacher. Mrs. Starch has vanished after a field trip to the local swamp that had been concerned by a fire that turns out to be caused by arson.
The prime suspect for the arson is Duane Scrod, Nick's classmate and a known troublemaker who has also vanished after a nasty argument with Starch. Duane has had previous arrests for arson and has a nickname of Smoke, so things don't look good for him. Of course, there's more to Smoke than meets the eye, and there is another suspicious party: a shady oil exploration company that has a scam that involves digging in a nature preserve.
Similar to Hoot, Scat also deals with a threatened animal, in this case, the Florida panther. And like almost all Hiaasen books, a major theme involves overdevelopment and the destruction of Florida's natural beauty. And like all Hiaasen books, this is a fun read, with a lot of humor and some more serious moments as well. Though tamer than Hiaasen's adult work (i.e., no real sex or violence), this will appeal to most people, regardless of age.