If you were pursuing your cousin’s kidnapper across Florida, you would want a man like Skink at your side. Maybe.
Skink, as readers of Hiaasen’s novels for adults know, was once governor of Florida and is now a genially lawless reprobate who takes “eco-terrorism” to a whole new level. Richard first meets him completely buried in the sand on a beach lying in wait for a sea turtle–egg thief. That one extraordinary encounter turns into an unlikely partnership when Richard’s spirited cousin, Malley, runs off with a guy she met on the Internet in order to avoid boarding school, a joy ride that quickly goes sour. On the road with Skink, Richard develops a taste for roadkill (Skink won’t eat any other kind of meat), learns how to drive (Skink injures his foot saving a baby skunk from a semi) and reads Silent Spring (Skink is horrified Richard hasn’t encountered it in school). They follow Malley’s cryptic cellphone clues into a swamp that just may be ivory-billed–woodpecker habitat for a classic Hiaasen showdown. While this confrontation goes on a bit too long, that doesn’t diminish the pleasure of the developing relationship between Skink and the fatherless Richard, as trusty a protagonist as ever was.
Hiaasen’s fierce love for the wilds of Florida, his fundamental commitment to decency and his penchant for the bizarre are all on full display in this, a read as agreeable as his hero is. (Fiction. 10-15)