NATIVE TONGUE by Carl Hiaasen


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Hiaasen's fourth Florida crime-farce--about an environmental-protection scam--is as manic as ever but lacks the crisp suspense that made Skin Tight a minor crime-classic. As usual, Hiaasen plunks a male Alice (reporter-turned-flak Joe Winder) into a tropical Wonderland (the Disney-rival theme park of the Amazing Kingdom of Thrills); but, again, he pushes slapstick black humor at the expense of thrills. It's a typically bizarre Hiaasen opening as the vacationing Whelper family panics when someone tosses a rat into their convertible--and the rat turns out to be one of only two blue-tongued mango voles left on earth, stolen, on orders of an eco-terrorist geriatric, by two bungling burglars who then mistook the voles for rats and threw them away. That's the last we see of the Whelpers--and the voles--although the geriatric and the thieves figure in the labyrinthine un-cover-up that follows as Joe deduces that the mango voles are just plain voles disguised to shake endangered-species' funds out of Uncle Sam: another venal venture by Joe's boss, Kingdom-owner and land-developer Francis X. Kingsbury, who, it transpires, is a mobster on the lam from John Gotti. In between losing his girlfriend to her new calling as a phone-sex scriptwriter and romancing a new love, Joe deduces that Orky the whale's choking to death on biologist Will Koocher was no accident but murder: Koocher knew too much about the voles. That sets Joe up as the next victim of Kingsbury and his steroid-pumped goon (who chews off his foot at the ankle when trapped beneath a ear), but with some help from a Florida-governor-turned-swamp-rat (recycled from Double Whammy), Joe takes down the Kingdom and saves a wilderness in the process. Madcap and sometimes quite funny, but strained as well, with the action often so absurd as to leach realism and thus suspense. The problem may be that Hiaasen's tilled this particular crime-comic soil one time too many.
Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 1991
ISBN: 044669570X
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1991

Kirkus Interview
Carl Hiaasen
author of RAZOR GIRL
November 7, 2016

In Razor Girl, Carl Hiaasen’s new novel, when Lane Coolman's car is bashed from behind on the road to the Florida Keys, what appears to be an ordinary accident is anything but. Behind the wheel of the other car is Merry Mansfield—the eponymous Razor Girl—and the crash scam is only the beginning of events that spiral crazily out of control while unleashing some of the wildest characters Hiaasen has ever set loose on the page. There's Trebeaux, the owner of Sedimental Journeys--a company that steals sand from one beach to restore erosion on another…Dominick "Big Noogie" Aeola, a NYC mafia capo with a taste for tropic-wear…Buck Nance, a Wisconsin accordionist who has rebranded himself as the star of a redneck reality show called Bayou Brethren…and Andrew Yancy—formerly Detective Yancy, busted down to the Key West roach patrol after accosting his then-lover's husband with a Dust Buster. Yancy believes that if he can singlehandedly solve a high-profile murder, he'll get his detective badge back. That the Razor Girl may be the key to Yancy's future will be as surprising as anything else he encounters along the way—including the giant Gambian rats that are livening up his restaurant inspections. “How can Hiaasen possibly tie together all this monkey business in the end?” our reviewer asks in a starred review. “His delirious plotting is so fine-tuned that preposterous complications that would strain lesser novelists fit right into his antic world. Relax, enjoy, and marvel anew at the power of unbridled fictional invention.” View video >


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