Florida man… writes great books.
Usually a sentence beginning in this manner is a segue to some sort of craziness. Part of this is due to Florida’s The Government in the Sunshine Act, which allows for all police arrests and reports to be made public, which in part contributes to the above-average level of strangeness that seems to go on in the Sunshine State regularly.
Unusual human behaviour exists everywhere of course, but Florida seems to generate far more than its fair market share. This effect is so prevalent that “Florida Man“ has become a catchphrase for news weirdness.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Peter Matthiessen, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Harry Crews, John D. MacDonald and Stuart Woods are all talented writers from Florida.
Although there have been many from the state throughout the years, only a couple have stepped forward to write about the gloriously bizarre aspect of day-to-day life in Florida.
One of the most popular of these is newspaper columnist and beat writer, Carl Hiaasen. As a journalist, he was twice shortlisted for the Pulitzer prize and more than half of his thirty-two books have been bestsellers.
A regular writer for the Miami Herald since 1976, Carl has been regularly exposed to the strangeness of Florida. It is unsurprising, therefore, that he has both a dark side and a darkly funny side. The two are admirably blended in this satirical caper novel.
In many ways, Hiaasen is the heir apparent to great crime novelists like fellow Floridians Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake. All three have great characters — relatable individuals with similar problems faced by other blue collar stiffs.
The trio also shares a great ear for dialogue, their conversational cadence rarely seems stilted or forced.
Where Hiaasen stands apart though, is in his repeated use of black humour. His talent for rendering the gruesome or the horrific into a source of humour is both a credit to his writing, and probably a mental defense mechanism.
Strip Tease is Hiaasen at his best, acting as pseudo-documentarian for the worst Florida absurdities.
Included therein, in no particular order, are venal politicians, drunken frat boys, sneaking swamp rats, scheming shysters, cool but clueless cops, gold-diggers, sensitive bouncers, rising stars, fading stars, virtuous topless dancers, creamed corn peddling strip club owners and “Moldy” Moldowski, one of the crookedest political fixers to ever grace the page.
Erin is the virtuous topless dancer, caught up in three nutty schemes as the result of one crazy night. “Occupational hazards” is a phrase that only marginally describes the strange turn of events that comes about from Erin doing her job. First, she becomes a murder suspect, then her job turns from a haven into a pitfall, and then despite her best efforts she still becomes a target for powerful forces that push her into a seemingly inescapable trap.
Sgt. Al Garcia is the well-meaning but largely clueless cop. His son discovers a body on what was supposed to be their family vacation, propelling Al onto the case. He pinballs through the various schemes that were all hatched on that fateful night, always close to the truth but never quite fully managing it.
This book was adapted into a movie and starred Demi Moore. The movie is pretty awful and bears little resemblance to what was an excellent novel.
With many of the strangest elements of this story drawn from actual Florida oddities, Hiaasen’s anecdotes often strain credulity. Part crime novel, part caper and part thriller, and all with a prodigious helping of noir humour, it was a real page-turning narrative from start to finish.
Jason Wiggins is owner of The Book Place at 248 Third Ave. downtown.