I had read two very heavy dark books in a row, and in order to lighten my mood on the recommendation of Margot Kinberg I read Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen.
This Florida based novel is hilarious, and had me laughing out loud at the outrageous characters and their antics. Although I have to admit to having come across characters almost as way out as these in my career.
Attractive blonde Joey Perrone is on a second anniversary cruise aboard the M.V. Sun Duchess when her husband Chaz throws her overboard.
' She had been co-captain of her college swim team, a biographical detail that her husband obviously had forgotten.'
Joey survives, and is rescued by Mick Stranahan, a retired reclusive ex-cop with a string of ex-wives and a friendly dog. Rather than go to the police the gorgeous and feisty Joey, presumed dead, and Mick decide to make Chaz's life a living hell.
Chaz, Dr Charles Perrone, a "marine biologist" has a well paid scheme going with Red Hammernut to falsify water samples taken from the Everglades so that Hammernut's farming business avoids paying huge fines for polluting the environment. Chaz believes Joey knows about the fraud, and will inform the authorities, so she has to die. Chaz and Hammernut have too much to lose.
'A big farming operation like his was a challenging enterprise, relying as it did on rampant pollution and the systematic mistreatment of immigrant labor. For Red it was no small feat to keep the feds off his back while at the same time soaking the taxpayers for lucrative crop subsidies that might or might not be repaid this century.'
The memorable supporting cast of characters include:
Karl Rolvaag, a python owning detective desperate to leave Florida for his home state of Minnesota.
'From his vantage Rolvaag counted five dogs, all of them edibly sized for a python.'
Earl Edward O'Toole, [Tool] a huge hairy neanderthal body guard, who forms a kindly relationship with Maureen, an elderly lady dying of cancer, while looking for drugs in her nursing home.
"Really. And back in the Netherlands you're a physician?"
"No, a doctor," he said pointedly.
Sneaky little bitch, Tool thought, squeezing himself into the Grand Marquis. Thought she could trick me!
With Corbett, Joey's eccentric sheep farming brother from New Zealand, Ricca Chaz's girlfriend, and a crazy one eyed Vietnam veteran living in the swamps entering the action at various stages there are plenty more laughs.
But with plenty of mosquitos, saw grass, snakes, swamps, duckweed, leeches, gators, and crooks the novel had a wonderful sense of place in glorious South Florida. Of course behind all the frivolity was the serious message about overpopulation and the subsequent pollution.
Ninety percent of the original 'glades had been developed, converted to agriculture or otherwise debauched. The only untrampled remnant was a national park, the waters of which were of dubious purity.
Skinny Dip is a brilliantly funny novel with memorable characters, and it also proves once again that crime fiction is a useful tool to both educate and get across an important agenda.
" But I'm still bleeding, for God's sake."
"Did you ever see Deliverance?" the blackmailer said. "Remember what happened to the chubby guy?"
Chaz Perrone started paddling.