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Hiassen's first book, and one of his strongest
on February 27, 2001
I've been reading Carl Hiassen's work for years, having jumped in around the middle, with "Native Tongue," "Skin Tight" and "Striptease." I've more recently been working my way through the rest of his catalog, including "Stormy Weather" and "Double Whammy," with his two latest books in hardback waiting on my to-be-read shelf.
But years after the liner notes for a Jimmy Buffett song ("The Ballad of Skip Wiley and Skeet" off his "Barometer Soup" album) made me go look for this Hiassen's guy's works in a book store, I'm finally getting around to "Tourist Season," the first novel Hiassen wrote, featuring rogue newspaper columnist Skip Wiley.
It's said that you spend your entire life writing your first novel, as you inevitably put pretty much all the good stuff in that one. Whatever the state of your craft, it's where your ideas, your good bits, your passion all gets poured into. While I've enjoyed other Hiassen books more (notably "Native Tongue" and "Skin Tight"), this certainly seems to be true for "Tourist Season." While all of his books have an overt current of rage directed at developers, destructive big business and endemic corruption, he always makes sure to leaven that with humor, a little zaniness, and some sweetness. Not here.
Sure, there's some amusing bits, a lot of them, really, but Hiassen's subsequent work has never been this dark, his rage never so undiminished. While all of his books barrel towards their climax, this is the first one I've read in which it's hard to see how there could be a happy ending, where the bad guys aren't REALLY bad and where it doesn't all seem like cosmic justice on the last page. I won't spoil the ending, but by midway through the book, it's clear that with the heaping handfuls of moral ambiguity mixed in, it's hard to have anything better than a bittersweet ending.
In a nutshell, Miami newspaper columnist Skip Wiley has had enough. Enough of the influx of Yankees to Florida and the concomitant woes of greed, development and reckless destruction of the environment. Especially the latter. When Skip Wiley goes missing, and a new terrorist organization, the Nights of December, starts targeting the tourist industry in South Florida (starting by shoving a rubber alligator down a man's throat and then putting his dead body inside his luggage), Skip's editor calls a former reporter turned private investigator to track him down.
Hiassen almost certainly does not advocate terrorism, murder and kidnap, but the cause is clearly near and dear to him, and he argues the Nights' cause eloquently. That makes their extremism tragic, and the possible endings all troubling.
A solid novel, and one of Hiassen's best. While all of his novels will make you laugh, and keep you turning the pages, anxious to see what the next twist in the roller-coaster ride will be, "Tourist Season" will make you think, too.
Definitely recommended for any of his existent fans, as well as fans of Dave Barry or Elmore Leonard.